The Vikings own the best record in the National Football League. The league’s television ratings have slipped. The two developments may be related.
There have been many excuses made for the NFL losing viewers. The ability to follow fantasy football outputs without watching actual games. The availability of games on phones, tablets and laptops. Increased awareness of the devastating effect of concussions and other injuries on players. Perhaps even protests during the playing of the national anthem has turned off a few viewers, although that seems to be the weakest of the assembled excuses.
The NFL remains the most-watched entity on network television but has experienced a double-digit decline in its prime-time broadcasts. Why?
The guess here is that the NFL’s problem is simple: The more NFL games you watch, the more aware you become of the NFL’s flaws. The league these days is frequently unentertaining.
This is where the Vikings come in.
During the past two decades, the NFL’s popularity has risen as it has showcased star players at the most important position in the game. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Brett Favre were constant sources of entertainment and important games, while Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and a handful of other passers sporadically climbed to that plateau.
And while Brady might wind up with a superior résumé, if you include postseason performances, Manning and Favre became the Michael Jordans of the league. They were must-watch television.
This season, Manning retired, Brady was suspended for the first four games of the season, Rodgers has slumped and there is no other premier star quarterback leading a dominant team, unless you count Russell Wilson, who has won like a superstar without earning the widespread recognition that he is one.
The NFL wants you to watch more games than ever, but if you do, you will find the league’s product to be watered-down and too often boring. Last year’s playoffs were not about great quarterback play; they were about defenses beating up quarterbacks. The story of the Super Bowl was Von Miller hitting Cam Newton.
The Vikings have taken advantage of this trend. If you like crisp offensive football, you are learning to despise the color purple. The Vikings aren’t particularly exciting on offense, and they make opposing offenses look like drunks on ice.
Other than the Patriots with the reinstated Brady, there are no teams that have one or zero losses that are led by a superstar quarterback. (Again, this is partly because Wilson is not receiving enough credit for his value to the Seahawks.)
The Broncos won last year’s Super Bowl with defense. The Vikings are playing a lot like last year’s Broncos, only their defense is more dominant, and their quarterback, Sam Bradford, is better than last year’s Manning or Brock Osweiler.
Newton and Eli Manning have slumped this season, although both produced big games on Sunday. Brees plays for a mediocre team. Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco have won Super Bowls without becoming magnetic. And a host of quarterbacks in their prime — Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Andrew Luck — are less than inspiring.
The Vikings this season have faced Marcus Mariota, Rodgers, Newton, Manning and Osweiler. Their next game will be against a rookie, Carson Wentz. They are capable of making good quarterbacks look bad and bad quarterbacks look amateurish. They can win without producing much offense, which is a great blueprint for winning and a bad plan for national marketing.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban sees greed and hubris as the roots of the NFL’s relative ratings problems.
“I think the NFL is 10 years away from an implosion,” Cuban said even before the ratings dropped. “I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy. … When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”
Great quarterbacks chasing history make for compelling television. Struggling quarterbacks running for their lives do not lure in the casual, national, fan.