The UFL hasn't even started yet, but It's already proving to be a disappointment. The recently-merged XFL and USFL announced some of its rules recently, which give an insight into how the league's managers are approaching the sport. And it isn't good.

Easily the single best idea that the XFL implemented was its lower-risk kickoff rules. This rule lined the kickoff coverage team at the receiving team's 35 and the kick return team at their own 30 -- only 5 yards apart from each other. The only 2 players not lined up on these yard markers are the kicker (who kicks the ball from his own 30), and the returner (who lines up around his own 10). No return blocker or coverage player may move until the ball has been fielded by the returner or has bounced no the ground. This rule put all of the players only a few yards apart from each other, instead of staggering the blockers across the half the length of the field. This eliminates the high speed collisions that resulted from coverage players running into blockers or the returner at a full sprint, and was expected to dramatically reduce major kickoff injuries (the kickoff being one of the most dangerous plays in all of football).

There has been talk over the years of eliminating kickoffs from football entirely, because of the danger inherent to the high speeds on the play. But the XFL rule provided perhaps the best opportunity to save the kickoff. It was such a smart idea, that both the NCAA and the NFL have considered adopting the XFL's kickoff. Neither has done so yet, but they should. If kickoffs are going to stay in football, I think this is how it will be done.

The XFL's old kickoff rule should be the standard for all football leagues -- but apparently not the UFL.

But the UFL apparently doesn't think so, as the UFL's rules managers are apparently opting to ditch the XFL kickoff rule in favor of the traditional, higher-speed, kickoff.

The UFL is claiming that the XFL kickoff did not result in a significant reduction in injuries, but I'm skeptical of that claim. The league only operated for 2 seasons, and teams didn't play more than 10 games in either of those 2 seasons. That's not a whole lot of time to establish long-term trends. It's not like major injuries are happening in NFL kickoffs every single game. It would take years to establish whether the rate of injuries is actually lower than the NFL, or if it is substantially higher than on any other football play from scrimmage.

Other than a flimsy excuse that the XFL kickoffs didn't apparently reduce injuries in the highly limited sample size that was available, the league's head of football operations, Daryl Johnston, said "the stationary kickoff [...] just didn't look like football.". So the XFL rule is at least as safe as the NFL rule, but the UFL provided no justification (that I could find) based on fair competition -- only a superficial preference that the traditional kickoff "looks better".

In fact, the UFL is actually moving the spot of the kick back to the kicking team's 20 yard line (instead of the 35 yard line in the NFL, or the 30 yard line in the XFL). This is their attempt to eliminate touchbacks and force more returns. This means that the UFL's kickoff rule will likely end up being more dangerous than the NFL's kickoff rule because the UFL will have a higher rate of kickoffs being fielded and returned, which means a higher rate of players running into each other at a full sprint and risking major injuries.

The XFL's kickoff, by the way, had more than a 90% return rate. So it also successfully resulted in almost all kickoffs being returned.

If this lack of forward-thinking is going to be common in the rationale that the operators of the UFL are using to create their rules, then I have zero faith in their ability to run a successful football league.

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We've been hearing all year that the "analytics" say that going for it on 4th and short situations results in (on average) more points and more wins, compared to punting or kicking a field goal. The fad for the past few years has been for teams to more frequently attempt to convert 4th and short situations, even when they are not in "comeback mode". More and more teams are refusing to punt the ball from inside the opponent's 50 yard line, or to kick chip shot field goals from within the opponent's 5. So far, this has been working out for teams more often than it has back-fired.

I've been a vocal opponent of these overly-aggressive play calls throughout the entire season, and have been insisting that these decisions are going to start to bite teams in the ass. That finally happened in the NFC Championship game, when the Detroit Lions found out the hard way that maybe they should have just taken the points.

The Lions refused to kick field goals on 2 separate occasions in the 2nd half. On both occasions, they failed to convert the 4th down. They left 6 points on the board, and they ended up losing the game (and their hopes of going to the SuperBowl) by 3 points.

In the 3rd quarter, after the Lions left the first 3 points on the board, I told the people watching the game with me that I thought this was the wrong move. The 49ers had scored a field goal with their first possession of the 2nd half to reduce the Lions' halftime lead from 17 to 14. Had the Lions simply kicked the field goal (and made it), they would have kept parity with the 49ers and maintained their 3-score lead. When they opted to leave the 2nd 3 points on the board, the Lions were only down by 3. That field goal would have tied the game, or it would have taken the lead if the Lions had already made the previous field goal.

The Lions left 3 points on the field twice, and lost the NFC Championship against the 49ers by 3 points.

The Lions lost the NFC Championship because their coach, Dan Campbell, dogmatically obeyed the analytics. I would have hoped that Dan Campbell would have learned this lesson after the failed 2-point conversion shenanigans against the Cowboys that cost the Lions the number 1 overall seed. But he didn't. He doubled-down. They lost out on the opportunity to host the NFC Championship game, which probably would have made all the difference for them. And now they've lost their chance at going to the SuperBowl.

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Chicago Bears alt logo

The NFL regular season has ended. Teams are starting their annual fire sales on coaches and coordinators. Some of the early casualties include Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, Chargers' head coach Brandon Staley, Washington Commanders' head coach Ron Rivera, Chicago Bears' offensive coordinator Luke Getsy, and others. That's on top of mid-season firings of Raiders' head coach Josh McDaniels and Carolina Panthers' head coach Frank Reich. During the second half of the season, speculation about which coaches would get fired was accompanied by fans arguing over whether these bad teams were "tanking" the season (or should tank the season) to improve their draft picks. The Bears were one of the most talked-about teams in this regard.

I don't pretend to know what goes on behind closed doors in NFL front offices, and no NFL front office has ever (to my knowledge) actually come out and said "we're deliberately tanking this season", so whether or not a team might be tanking is pure speculation. But if you ask me, no professional sports team should ever deliberately tank a season! And this goes double for any team that is operating with a 1st or 2nd year coaching staff or general manager, as is the case for the 2022 and 2023 Chicago Bears.

Many fans speculated (and even wanted) that the Bears would tank in 2022. And after a 1-5 start to the 2023 season, some fans even began to think the Bears were tanking this season too. Reddit was awash with posts insisting that the Bears' should tank in order to get the top 2 picks in the 2024 NFL draft (the Bears own the Panther's first round pick, in addition to their own pick). This would allow the Bears to cut Justin Fields and draft Caleb Williams, as well as get some other top-tier elite talent.

Caleb Williams
Photo credit: John McGillen, Photography LLC.
Many fans expect the Bears to cut or trade Justin Fields in order to draft Caleb Williams.

Personally, I am willing to go on the record as saying that I do not agree with this popular consensus that the Bears should draft Caleb Williams. I am still on the fence about Justin Fields' potential, and would like to see him stay with the team. I would prefer that the Bears trade down to get more draft capital, and focus on taking an elite receiver (Marvin Harrison Jr.), offensive lineman, pass rusher, and/or cornerback. But my feelings on the Bears' specific 2024 strategy is neither here nor there. The main point is that regardless of the Bears' plans with Justin Fields (or any teams' plans with any roster), no team should ever deliberately tank a season.

The thing about tanking is that "tanking" is practically indistinguishable from actually sucking.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I really didn't think this would happen, but UNLV is back to 2nd place in the Mountain West Conference after Fresno State was blown out by San Jose State last night. UNLV is now a full game ahead of Fresno State with only 2 games left on the schedule.

Next week is a matchup against Air Force, who still holds onto the number 1 position in the conference. But, Air Force has looked vulnerable lately, decisively losing to both Army and Hawai'i in the past 2 weeks. What seemed like a sure loss for UNLV earlier in the season is now a very winnable game for UNLV. UNLV's rush defense is one of the team's strengths, and Air Force almost exclusively runs the Flexbone Triple Option.

If UNLV can beat Air Force on the road, it will move UNLV up to the number 1 spot in the conference and give UNLV a tie-breaker against Air Force for home field advantage in the Mountain West Championship. In fact, if UNLV beats Air Force, I think the only way they could be eliminated from the Conference Championship is if they lose to San Jose State, and also Fresno State wins its last 2 games. Fresno's last 2 games are against New Mexico and San Diego State, and both are very winnable games for Fresno.

San Jose is a bit of a surprise contender themselves, having won 4 straight against New Mexico, Utah State, Hawai'i, and Fresno. A win against UNLV in the final week of the regular season could potentially give San Jose a conference championship birth. Suddenly, the matchup against San Jose is actually looking even more worrisome than the matchup against Air Force.

These upcoming games against Air Force and San Jose are going to be among the most important games in UNLV's football history, and will certainly be the biggest games of head coach Barry Odom's inaugural year with UNLV.

I'm hoping to be able to see UNLV host a Mountain West Conference Championship at Allegiant Stadium!

If UNLV makes a conference championship appearance, I fully intend to attend the game. I honestly never expected to see UNLV competing for a conference championship in my lifetime, so whether it be here at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, or at Colorado Springs, Fresno, Boise, or San Jose, I intend to be there.

I'll also be tentatively planning on attending any bowl game that UNLV gets invited to, so long as the trip is affordable. If UNLV goes to the Hawai'i Bowl, I might not be able to afford tickets, since I was stuck having to pay for some expensive home repairs due to storm damage that insurance refused to cover (thank you, climate change!), and then also bought a new gaming PC so that I can play Cities: Skylines II. So I may not have the disposable cash on hand right now to afford plane tickets to Hawai'i. Hopefully UNLV gets an invite to a bowl here in the contiguous states, such that a much less-expensive road trip is viable.

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Madden NFL 24 - title

Last year, I gave Madden 23 a scolding initial review due to an excess of bugs and A.I. problems, including the broken Interception A.I. slider that resulted in every QB getting picked off 5 times a game. However, after a couple months, many of the most egregious issues with the game had been fixed by EA, and I came to realize that I was still playing the game long after I have usually given up on it in previous years. And dare I say, I might even have been kinda sorta liking it.

In particular, I praised the game for actually taking critical feedback of previous years' games to heart and iterating and improving on old ideas that hadn't quite worked out. Targeted passing, tackle battle, throw-out-of-sack animations, and in-season college scouting were all mechanics that were introduced in recent years, but which weren't well-received in their debut games. Instead of completely abandoning those features, EA actually seems to have looked at the criticisms, re-examined those mechanics at fundamental levels, and improved them such that they all are both better-playing game mechanics, and also more closely model the sport of football. Further, the new motivations and tags feature managed to add a tiny degree of humanity to the player rosters, making the players feel slightly more like actual people with their own wants and desires, and less like simple commodities to be bought, sold, and traded by the old, rich, white men who run the NFL.

It seemed like EA and Tiburon were finally putting a degree of thought and effort into the game.

I eventually started to come around to kinda sorta liking Madden 23.

So if Madden 23 ended up being moderately successful at iterating on older ideas and actually making them work better, without really introducing a whole lot that was genuinely new, then I was open to the idea of Madden 24 potentially doing the same thing. If there's not very much new, but the stuff that is old just works better, then I might actually be willing to give Madden 24 a fairly positive review. And this seems to be the approach that EA and Tiburon took with Madden 24 ... except that it doesn't work better.

A patch for last year's game?

Almost everything new to Madden 24's gameplay takes the form of subtle, barely-noticeable upgrades to the "Fieldsense" and tackle physics mechanics introduced in last year's game. In Franchise, there are a few tweaks to free agency and trade mechanics, and coaching skill trees have been expanded. That's pretty much it!

This is little more than a $70 patch for Madden 23.

And ... OK ... that could be fine. I've long asked for EA and Tiburon to take a few years to rebuild Madden's fundamentals, instead of shoe-horning in new features that further complicate the mechanics and code base. If that results in a much better football game at fundamental levels, then it would be worth it. But this isn't better fundamental football. It's incremental, barely-noticeable upgrades over last year's game.

Supposedly, blockers are supposed to be smarter at picking who to block. Defenders are supposed to be able break on short routes, and supposedly can't make blind interceptions anymore. There's supposed to be new fumble recovery animations. The biggest supposed change is that defenses are supposed to be able to adjust better to the user's play-calling. But I just don't see much -- if any -- difference in any of these areas.

It's the same wonky physics that can be completely canceled if the game choses an incompatible animation, or which allows the ball to magnetically attach to players' hands.

It's the same play-calling logic that is overly-reliant on passing the ball 20+ yards down the field.

It's the same blocking and defensive logic that can be easily exploited with money plays or hot routes, and which never learns or adjusts to what the user is doing.

CPU QBs still run around and take massive sacks.

It's the same cheating, rubber-band A.I. that inflates scores and stats, and which isn't properly balanced for full-length, 15-minute quarters.

It's the same idiotic team-building logic that causes CPU-controlled teams to release their MVP franchise QB and then use up even more cap space to sign 5 over-paid, mediocre replacements.

It's full of the same stupid shit like quarterbacks dropping deeper into the pocket and taking 15 yard sacks against blitzes, defenses being completely incapable of defending inside-breaking routes, linemen being unable to block outside running plays, and all the same stuff that has been frustrating gamers for years.

And every one of those things listed above is something that was supposed to have been improved in this year's game. But I don't notice much -- if any -- difference.

In fact, about the only things that I notice that seem different about the on-field action is that there are now referees on the field again. And hey! One of the refs in each game is even a woman! So there's finally some tiny amount of gender representation in Madden. And the other change that I've noticed is that players like to push and shove each other around a lot more after plays, but the new refs never bother throwing flags for personal fouls.

Referees are back on the field, and there's even a few variations of women referees.

Oh, and I guess running quarterbacks are better at holding onto the football. So I'm a lot more secure in running designed QB runs, options, and bootleg scrambles with the likes of Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields. So that's something, I guess...

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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