Just about no one tunes into the NFL to listen to the officials, but if you paid close attention in Week 1, you would have noticed something was missing. There were 23 official replays or coaching challenges across the 16 games last week, with 13 getting reversed and 10 behind upheld. But not a single call was "confirmed," and that wasn't just a one-week coincidence.
The NFL has done away with confirming the ruling on the field. For years, referees have had three options on replay challenges, and they would use "confirm" when video confirmed the call on the field and "stands" when video couldn't conclusively rule the call on the field was correct but also couldn't overturn the ruling.
Now that distinction has been removed.
"This was done purely for simplicity's sake," an NFL spokesman said via email. "If the call on the field is changed, that is of course detailed. If it will not change, then it stands, and the referees will say that."
One could argue the distinction between "stands" and "confirmed" was important so coaches would better know what to challenge. Yes, it's simpler, but it seems the decision was made not to reduce confusion (of which I can't imagine there was much) but instead to make the game faster. Replays have essentially become pass/fail rather than graded as the league continues to streamline its on-field product when it comes to time.
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According to the CBS research department, the average Week 1 game lasted 3 hours and 4 minutes. Compared to Week 1 last year, that's down almost 5 minutes from 2019 (and controlling for one overtime game in Week 1 of 2019 it's down by more than a minute.)
Called penalties were also down in Week 1. In 2019, officials called 249 penalties on opening week. Last week, officials called just 181 penalties, which was the second-lowest in Week 1 since the NFL grew to 32 teams in 2002.
And this isn't the first time the league has tried to trim a minute or two off the replay process. Three years ago, the NFL did away with referees going "under the hood" and replaced it with Microsoft Surface tablets.
Run, Cam, Run?
Cam Newton will run less versus Seattle. No, it's not because the Patriots are afraid of running him into the ground. And I'm not even saying it because of whatever real or perceived hamstring issue the quarterback may be dealing with.
It's simply that Pete Carroll's Seahawks have, for the most part, always known how to defend Newton's rushing.
Including playoffs, Newton is 2-6 all-time against Seattle. He's averaged 3.89 yards per rush on 64 carries in those eight games against the Seahawks, down from his career average of 5.08 yards per rush. Three of those games saw Newton rush 11 or more times for a total of just 64 yards.
"We've had to defend [Newton] for a long time. So, we do know him well, and we did see a lot of the concepts and principles that he's always been successful at utilizing," Pete Carroll told reporters this week. "I think it's a real indication of Bill's ability to use his talent. This was not the same offense we've seen in the past. They've obviously done a lot of work to tailor it to him and make sure he's a big part of. They're utilizing their personnel really well."
Newton's 15 rushes last week against Miami were the most in his career in regulation. As I wrote last month, sources close to Newton view his time off due to injury as a positive because he saved hundreds of hits to his 31-year-old body. Also, as previously reported, the concern isn't his surgically repaired foot more than it is the shoulder.
If Newton is stopped Sunday night in Seattle, that shouldn't come as a surprise. But should he be stymied on the ground, I will lean more toward crediting Seattle than believing the Patriots are already changing their plans for Newton two weeks in.
New officiating normal?
A smart source of mine tipped me off to this earlier in the week: Craig Wrolstad, the referee for Sunday night's Patriots at Seahawks game, has never been the head referee for his hometown Seahawks until this week.
For years the NFL has done a great job of avoiding simply the appearance of referee bias as it relates to a potential "hometown" team. But because travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have reshuffled officiating crews and made them more regional, something like this was bound to happen.
Wrolstad grew up in Washington and holds two degrees from the University of Washington. He lives about 40 minutes south of Seattle and serves as the athletic director at a private school.
Wrolstad has been an NFL official since 2003, first as a field judge and in 2014 becoming a referee. As a field judge, he officiated nine home Seahawks games and six away Seahawks games. But since becoming a white hat in 2014, Wrolstad hasn't ref'd a single Seattle game—home or away.
There's absolutely nothing in Wrolstad's record that would suggest he'll be anything but impartial Sunday night. (Especially without fans!) Please, Patriots fans, spare me. After the nonsense of counting how many officials resided in or around southern California following the no call in Rams-Saints two years ago, I can't do this again.
But simply the appearance of potential conflict is exactly why the NFL avoids situations like the one it has put Wrolstad in Sunday night.
Despite this column posting Friday, I'll be picking the Thursday night game by tweeting it before kickoff each week. I took the Bengals over the Browns, who looked hapless against Baltimore. This is the second straight week I've picked Joe Burrow and there will not be a third.
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
I saw more improvement from Josh Allen last week against the Jets, even though he made some decisions that made me wonder if he'll ever be able to truly minimize his errors. I like what Brian Daboll is doing with this offense, making it more vertical now that the Bills have a true No. 1 in Stefon Diggs. The Bills will win the AFC East, and through an eighth of the season, I don't believe they'll really be tested.
The pick: Bills
Falcons at Cowboys
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
This is the hardest game of the week to pick. I was surprised at how bad the Falcons defense looked last week, but I can't believe they're actually that bad. Throw in that Dak Prescott has never thrown a touchdown in two career games against the Falcons. Add on top that Atlanta had three 100-yard receivers and this seems like an obvious bounce-back game for the Falcons. But if you're telling me one of these teams has to start 0-2, I can't believe Dallas is the one.
The pick: Cowboys
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
Carson Wentz can't be protected. He was pressured on a third of his dropbacks, and when he had time in the pocket he was able to air it out to Jalen Reagor or DeSean Jackson or Dallas Goedert. And the Eagles defense still couldn't stop a fairly basic Dwayne Haskins defense. I don't think the Eagles will have an answer for what Sean McVay will do to them pre-snap, and Jared Goff should hit them for some big chunk plays after lulling the defense to sleep with short stuff.
The pick: Rams
Sunday, 4:25 p.m., CBS
Deshaun Watson didn't have enough time in the pocket before the pressure got there last Thursday and he may have even less this week. He had just 2.33 seconds before the Chiefs pressure arrived after enjoying an average of 2.6 seconds in 2019. The Texans have to figure out the right side of their offensive line, and Week 2 against what may be the best all-around defense in the NFL is a bad time to have to try.
The pick: Ravens
Patriots at Seahawks
Sunday, 8:20 p.m., NBC
If Bill Belichick had the defensive horses from 2019, I'd be far more inclined to take the Pats here. The Pats did well against the Dolphins last week, but this is an entirely different ball of wax. Russell Wilson was unconscious against the Falcons. Brian Schottenheimer may just D.K. Metcalf-go-route the Patriots to death Sunday night. I'm also taking into account the aforementioned Carroll record against Newton.
The pick: Seahawks
NFL Week 2 picks: All the rest
49ers over Jets
Cardinals over Washington Football Team
Chiefs over Chargers