Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
As we get ready for the exciting finale to this season on Sunday, I thought it would be interesting to reflect back on the 2022-2023 season as a whole. I feel this year hasn’t been as exciting as in years past. This made me ask the question, ‘Was this past season a down year?’ This article will examine the different metrics that define a ‘good’ and/or ‘exciting’ season and determine whether or not this season has been a ‘down year.’
Pass vs. Rush
As modern-day football fans, we generally tend to favor watching the pass over the rush. Passing is more risky but has a better chance of breaking free for a long play. These factors combine to make passing plays more exciting and dramatic. The following chart displays the passing yards per game (PYPG) from the past 30 seasons.
Following a decrease in PYPG from last season, 2022-2023 saw only 218.5 PYPG, nearly a 10-yard decrease from the year before. This was also the lowest total in this category since the 2009-2010 season. Conversely, rushing yards per game (RYPG) have gone up. The following graph shows the RYPG for the last 30 years.
This season, teams averaged 121.6 RYPG, a notable increase from the previous year. Remarkably, this was the highest RYPG since the 1987-1988 season.
You may be asking yourself, ‘Why are teams favoring the ground game over the last couple of years?’ The short answer is that the run is simply more effective. This year, teams averaged 4.5 rushing yards per attempt (RY/A); incredibly, this is the highest of this stat in recorded history (RY/A was first recorded in 1932). The longer and more complicated answer revolves around the increasing impact of the modern, mobile quarterback as well as poor linebacker play, but that topic deserves its own look sometime down the line.
For all of you oldies, no I’m not going to talk about Deion Sanders. Instead, I’ll be taking a look into primetime games this year, and more specifically, Amazon Prime’s first year of hosting Thursday Night Football. A warm and comforting reminder of the end of the week, Thursday Night Football serves as a delicious appetizer to hold us over until a full Sunday slate. However, this year’s appetizer tasted more like burnt pigs in a blanket or mozzarella sticks that didn’t completely melt on the inside. In other words, Thursday Night Football sucked.
For starters, Amazon prime took Thursday Night Football off of cable, limiting millions of fans from watching. Viewership was down over 28%, according to Nielsen Ratings. For those who forked up the $9 per month, Thursday night games were mediocre; six of the 15 total matchups showcased two teams that finished at .500 or worse.
Similarly to the modern preference of passing over rushing, many people prefer to watch high-scoring games. The graph below shows the combined point totals of each Thursday Night Football game this season. The red line represents the average combined point total for the 2022 season (43.8).
As can be visualized in the graph, many of these games failed to reach high scores. Some may argue that defense is exciting, but it wasn’t necessarily good defensive play that kept the scores down; rather, poor offensive play was at fault. For example, in the week five matchup between the Colts and Broncos, the final score was 12-9 and no touchdowns were scored. These two defenses finished 29th and 13th in points allowed on the season. Many of the other low-scoring games followed a similar pattern. As mentioned before, Thursday Night Football sucked.
Graphic by Yahoo Sports
If there is any time to redeem a season, it’s the playoffs. In my mind, the playoffs can be evaluated on three factors: quality of teams, quality of matches, and good stories/underdogs. Last season is a perfect example of an amazing year of playoffs. Every team was over .500 and, outside of the seven-seeds, it seemed as if every team had a shot to win in the wild card. The divisional round was one of the best in the history of the league, with all four games coming down to the final play. Both one-seeds lost in the divisional round, leaving plenty of room for good stories/underdogs. Joe Burrow led the Bengals to the Super Bowl out of nowhere, facing up against Matthew Stafford attempting to secure his first ring after being traded to the Rams – both teams assumed the role of an underdog in their own right.
Unfortunately, this year’s playoffs didn’t live up to the hype of the year prior. Five teams with nine or less wins made their way into the playoffs, including the division-winning 8-9 Buccaneers. Some teams had major injuries to pivotal positions, such as quarterback, while other teams didn’t stand a chance fully healthy. The general expectation was that the Eagles and 49ers would make it to the championship round on the NFC side and two teams out of the Chiefs, Bills, and Bengals would face off on the other side. This expectation was met; the final four teams included both one-seeds, a two-seed, and a three-seed. In other words, no underdogs snuck through the cracks. The amazing story of ‘Mr. Irrelevant,’ Brock Purdy, potentially leading the 49ers to a championship was quickly put to rest after the rookie quarterback suffered a detrimental injury in only the first quarter of the NFC Championship. All in all, the top teams were miles ahead of the rest of the pack, leaving very little parity as the playoffs progressed.
Was this Season a Down Year?
No, this season wasn’t a down year. I say this because I don’t believe there will ever be a ‘down year’ in the NFL. Football is an exponentially growing sport that will always increase its profits and viewership every year for the foreseeable future, no matter the result of the season. Every game up to this point could have been a thirty-point blowout and we would still look forward to the holiday that we call the Super Bowl, as we do every year. Regardless of whether or not we especially enjoy the games leading up to the Super Bowl, we will always watch each season in order to keep up with the league and fully enjoy its finale in totality.