You have heard all the reasons given for the recent decline in pro football ratings in this country, the one at the top of the list being anthem protests, even though it is a reason that doesn't stand up to much scrutiny, in red states or blue states or anywhere.
I was reading a story not long ago about how "Bull," a CBS series that was a big hit for the network last season, had seen a ratings drop this season of up to 25 percent, and was waiting for somebody to blame that on Colin Kaepernick, too.
This, by the way, is a small excerpt from a Wall Street Journal story about NFL ratings, which raised the subject of the sport now simply being overexposed, no matter what kind of ratings some of these dog games are pulling on Thursday night:
"In Week 2, the red-state decline outstripped the blue-state decline considerably. But when Mr. Trump started tweeting his displeasure about the protests in Week 3, the NFL had its best year-over-year ratings performance of the season, and the red states were down just 1 percent. In the ensuing weeks the red and blue-state declines were generally even … Except for a blip in Week 2, viewership of NFL games in 'red states' hasn't declined more than in blue states.'"
So as much as the president and the bullhorn media wants this to be political in the NFL, it's really not. There's a lot going on here, the way there is always a lot going on when you try to crunch numbers about viewership in a modern world.
Really, and more than anything else, here's what's going on in the NFL, even with ratings down 15 percent in the past two years: The league has been amazingly unlucky, losing some of its stars to injury. It is one more reason why the league is so lucky right now to have Carson Wentz and Jared Goff and the Eagles and the Rams playing the way they are.
So far in 2017, we have seen Aaron Rodgers lost to the Packers, maybe for the season, with a broken right collarbone. We have seen Odell Beckham Jr., as exciting a player as there is on the planet, first be slowed by an ankle injury and then lost to the Giants when he fractured an ankle. Houston's J.J. Watt suffered a season-ending injury. So did his teammate Deshaun Watson, who was not just on his way to being Rookie of the Year, but playing his way into the conversation about MVP. It was a cruel irony that it happened to Watson in the same week the Astros won the World Series.
Andrew Luck hasn't taken a snap in a real game for the Colts since last season. Julian Edelman, one of the stars of the Patriots and as much Tom Brady's favorite receiver as Rob Gronkowski is, was lost to the Patriots in the preseason. Carson Palmer, starting quarterback of the Cardinals, was lost to the Cardinals. The Vikings' Dalvin Cook was lost to his team. This sort of attrition does not happen in baseball, or basketball, or anything. It is, in all ways in a violent sport, the cost of doing business.
Losing Rodgers is like losing LeBron. Or what it would have been like to lose another Aaron -- Judge -- from the baseball season. Watson wasn't just making us all pay attention to the way he was playing for the Texans, which happens to be the way he played for Clemson, he was making history the way he was throwing touchdown passes. Then you know what happened to him, one day in practice: Sports happened. His knee exploded underneath him the way that happened to another promising quarterback kid, Teddy Bridgewater, for the Vikings one year ago.
Of course, the Patriots are still right there in the AFC, even though their record seems better than the way they've played. The Cowboys have started to round into form as they try to keep the Eagles from running away from everything in the NFC East. But always in Dallas there is the cloud of Ezekiel Elliott's suspension hanging over them, as Elliott has become an even better broken-field runner from judge to judge and courtroom to courtroom than he has been at AT&T Stadium.
If you are a fan of pro football, whatever your allegiance, you ought to be rooting for the Eagles and the Rams to keep playing the way they have been playing. That means the way they played all the way through last Sunday's games, when each team rang up its opponent for 51 points.
The Eagles and the Rams are new and young and talented and appealing and exciting, and if you don't think that still works in sports, look at the way the Astros' World Series title has been received, and even embraced -- at least outside of Southern California -- over the last week. The Astros felt new. The Astros are young and talented and appealing. And swept us all away.
Now it seems to be happening in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, with teams quarterbacked by the first two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft: Wentz and Goff (which still sounds like a personal injury law firm to me. "Have you suffered an injury in the workplace? Call Wentz and Goff").
Casual fans didn't know a whole lot about them when they were drafted. Goff came from Cal, but Wentz came out of North Dakota State. Only now Wentz really is an MVP candidate and Goff is doing his own fine work managing Sean McVay's offense in LA. And when you look at the field right now in a wide-open NFC, they are the two best bets to represent their conference on the first Sunday in February in Minneapolis.
"The number one thing you can judge a quarterback on is wins and losses," Goff said after the Rams beat the Giants 51-17 in Jersey, where Sean McVay's grandfather once coached the Giants. "And right now we're 6-2, so I feel good."
Goff had his best day in the pros on Sunday against the Giants, 14-for-22 and 311 yards and four touchdown passes, in this season when the Rams have now scored more than 40 points three times. Wentz threw four touchdown passes of his own against the team that used to be the Denver Broncos as the Eagles pushed their record to 8-1.
Wentz is quarterbacking the best team in pro football right now. Goff's Rams aren't very far behind, even in a Patriots world. The Patriots are always a good story. So are the Cowboys. But they always feel like old stories in the NFL. The Eagles and Rams are new. And exactly what their sport needs. No controversy there.