The final two games of Week 14 of the 2020 NFL season; games featuring matchups between the Pittsburgh Steelers/Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens/Cleveland Browns, turned out to be primetime contests filled with outlandish exaggeration and shameless hyperbole. If you don't believe that statement, or you aren't quite sure what I am referring to, you must not have watched either game.
Both games featured home teams that hadn't hosted a primetime game with serious playoff implications in many years. Maybe that is why the broadcast teams went out of their way to hype each matchup, paying especially close attention to both aforementioned newcomers and their young talent.
Trust me when I say that I totally understand the logic behind that strategy. Every professional sports entity have their foundations built on the talents of their superstar performers. These star athletes are the faces of the league; they sell tickets and merchandise, increase tv ratings and advertising revenue, and serve as ambassadors for their leagues. Each professional league is always on the lookout for the next crop of young standouts capable of taking the baton from the aging superstars and run with it. The survival and financial wellbeing of every professional sports league depends on this successful transfer of power and prestige.
A huge problem that often arises is the fact that respect has to be earned, it can't just be given. Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes is the unquestioned face of the NFL, having taken over the top spot from Tom Brady. The NFL's hype machine was activated the instant that Mahomes unbelievable abilities proved to be beyond elite. He wasn't just an answer to prayers for Chiefs fans, he was a dream come true for the NFL. The moment he lead the Chiefs to the Super Bowl title last season he solidified the top spot, and the Chiefs and the NFL acted accordingly. The Chiefs awarded him the largest contract in NFL history, while the NFL plastered his image everywhere.
Now that the NFL has identified it's next golden goose, it has turned it's attention toward locating his future rivals and peers. Current star QBs like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, and Aaron Rodgers are all getting a little long in the tooth. Each one is closer to retirement than their prime, and the NFL is going to need reinforcements sooner rather than later. That's where sports media and national broadcast teams come into the equation.
Take Sunday night's Steelers/Bills game as an example. NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth; a former Cincinnati Bengals WR who is legendary for his ability to never shut up during a broadcast, went out of his way to audition for the job of Bills QB Josh Allen's next hype man. He did everything short of professing his undying love for the man on national television.
He gushed over Allen's poise and toughness standing tall in the pocket in the face of the Steelers ferocious pass rush. He spoke in reverent tones as he explained that every viewer watching at home was witnessing Josh Allen's ascension to greatness. He made Allen sound like the next Ben Roethlisberger. When you realize that was the whole point, you understand it was mission accomplished.
Then you have the Monday Night Football crew insinuating throughout the night that we the fans were indeed privileged to be watching what was maybe the greatest Monday Night Football game in history. The best game of the 2020 NFL season at the very least. Talk about some hyperbole.
The game featured two young QBs that the NFL can't wait to anoint to the top tier of league signal callers. Ravens QB Lamar Jackson would appear at first glance to have already earned his spot, considering his NFL MVP award last season. However, he has struggled at times this season as he has worked to evolve into a more complete QB. COVID concerns and protocol have done him no favors in his development. The jury is still out concerning what level of success he can actually achieve, and he has yet to win a single playoff game.
The other QB in the game was Browns front man Baker Mayfield. The Browns were last year's preseason darlings, and Mayfield was considered just the right man to lead the star crossed franchise to a long awaited playoff berth. The Browns, and the national sports media, found out the hard way that it takes more than just talent to create a winning culture. Turns out all the prognosticators were a year early, as a new Head Coach and some personnel changes have the franchise on the cusp of a return to the playoffs. No fanbase is more deserving than the Browns faithful.
That being said, Monday night's game left me with a huge question and a impactful encouragement. I was left to wonder if either the Browns or Ravens had any desire to actually attempt to play anything that could remotely be considered defense. Based on what I witnessed throughout the game, particularly in the second half, the answer to that question was a resounding no. If either team was actually trying to play defense during that unencumbered track meet up and down the football field, then I like the Steelers chances of success in the playoffs.
Many fans walked away from that no defense exhibition marveling at the offensive efficiency displayed by both teams, particularly when it came to running the football. It really was something to behold, having to be seen to be believed. The Monday Night Football crew slobbered all of themselves praising the participants and amplifying the resulting hysteria. Sportscenter took the baton after the game and ran with it. Some went so far as to say that yet another heartbreaking loss for the Browns faithful was just as good as a win. Can you imagine any Steelers fan ever suggesting such a thing, or a broadcaster for that matter? The Steelers are regularly criticized after a victory. Happens all the time.
Maybe I am just an old school fuddy-duddy who happens to be slightly jealous of the outstanding rushing attacks of both the Browns and Ravens. I have no problem admitting that. However, I also love and believe in our Pittsburgh Steelers, and I understand the importance of having a championship caliber defense like the Steelers possess. If Monday night's game represents what is considered acceptable defense in today's NFL, then I like the Steelers chances for postseason success.