It's time to give some credit where it's due for the NFL.
I'm aware that's not the cool thing to do. It's much more popular to bash the NFL for the latest real or perceived mistake or to boo commissioner Roger Goodell like Colts fans did on Sunday in Indianapolis, but I'm not going to do that for two reasons.
First, because I pretty much did that last week regarding its handling of the Los Angeles situation, especially as it relates to adding the Chargers to the market as the second team. Second, because the league has made a bunch of tweaks to improve the flow of the games, and a funny thing happened: the tweaks worked.
The improvements haven't been talked about a lot yet for many reasons, including outstanding games the past three weeks, continued discussion regarding national anthem protests and, more recently, the protests to the protests. Plus, individually, none of the minor "tweaks" are all that noticeable.
Collectively, though, they have a made a difference. As somehow who calls an NFL game each Sunday for Westwood One Radio and watches several others, it's been a major improvement, so there is nothing minor about it in my mind.
Let's start with the breaks. The NFL used to have five commercial breaks per quarter. To be able to fit that in, they often had "back-to-back" breaks about once per quarter, often after a score. For the viewer or the person attending the game, it was extremely disjointed to see a score followed by a commercial followed by a kickoff (usually an uneventful touchback) and yet another commercial.
Not anymore. The league now has only four slightly longer breaks each quarter and, most importantly, no back-to-back breaks. It's a huge improvement whether the casual fan has consciously taken notice of it or not.
While that's the biggest difference, it is far from the only one in the interest of speeding up the game and keeping the interest of the fans. Halftime is now effectively shorter, as the clock starts immediately upon completion of the first half. Same goes for the time between touchdowns and extra points, when the play clock starts immediately on those plays now, as well.
Even officiating improvements like centralized replay in New York with VP of Officiating Alberto Riveron have been successful, as they've expedited the prior process of the referee going under the hood. At least to this point, it hasn't created any controversy regarding a replay review.
In addition, they are allowing the players significantly more leeway as it relates to touchdown celebrations, and the results have been generally outstanding. The "home run" routine by Torrey Smith and several of his Eagles teammates on Sunday against the Cardinals was terrific.
The game may not be perfect just yet, but the best sign is it feels like the NFL took the pulse of and listened to its consumers and then made changes in the name of improvement. The league should be commended for that.
Even the numbers bear that out, as NFL games through Week 4 are finishing in less than three hours and four minutes, which is well over three minutes faster than last year and four minutes quicker than the year before that.
In fact, NFL games are finishing faster than they have since 2008, which most people would agree is a very good thing.
Even if you haven't noticed or don't really care about games finishing a little sooner than they used to, the bottom line is the NFL is considering the desires of its fans and acting on them. In what has already been a tumultuous start to the season on many levels, that may be the best news yet.