As the 2016 NFL playoffs continue this weekend, we can reflect on the fact that we’ve seen a kinder, gentler league emerge over the past several years due to a much higher emphasis on player safety.
As fans, we can certainly get behind that. No rational humans want to see athletes wobble off the field after vicious hits to the head (Eagles fans might disagree).
But there is a “however.”
This is still football, and the deeper we get into the playoffs, the nastier things get.
We saw it last year as Antonio Brown got KO’d by Vontaze Burfict, causing Brown to miss the next game. Hopefully nothing like that happens this year. Does anyone really want to see Falcons Wide Receiver Nick Williams going up against Richard Sherman this weekend? No, I think we’d all prefer to see Julio Jones vs Sherman 2.0.
This year, we saw Brown “attack” a goal post with one of his many TD celebrations that in total have cost him over $63,000 in fines. That’s more in fines than any of the heavy hitters below who got fined for helmet to helmet shots or hits on defenseless players! Just think about that for a second…
Let’s look at some headhunters among the eight teams still in the hunt for the Lombardi Trophy. While these guys didn’t rack up tens of thousands of dollars in fines for wearing custom shoes or celebrating too hard in the end zone, they did manage to do it the old fashion way. They earned it…by laying the wood to opponents in a manner that Deacon Jones would have loved.
- K.J. Wright, Seattle – $48,620 for a helmet to helmet hit. Yet he only had two penalties for a mere 18 yards all of 2016.
- Datone Jones, Green Bay – $36,464 for roughing the passer. He also racked 45 penalty yards on six flags.
- Julian Edelman, New England – $24,309 for a hit on a defenseless player, plus $9,115 for an excessive facemask. Edelman was flagged four times for a total of 25 yards. Crushing the ball boy was not called!
- Javon Hargrave, Pittsburgh – $18,231 for a horse collar tackle. He was caught by the refs just twice overall in 2016 for 20 penalty yards.
- Keanu Neal, Atlanta – $24,309 for a hit on a defenseless player. He tallied just 14 yards on two penalties.
- Justin Durant, Dallas – $9,115 for an excessive facemask. His 40 yards of penalties came on four different flags.
- Johnathan Joseph, Houston – $24,309 for a helmet to helmet shot. He also hurt his team to the tune of 85 penalty yards on four infractions during 2016.
- Eric Berry, K.C. – $24,309 for a helmet to helmet hit. Incredibly, his teammate Travis Kelce received the same fine for throwing a harmless towel at an official. Berry was caught on three flags totaling 60 yards as well.
In case you were wondering, here are the leaders in most team penalties per game, of playoff contenders left:
- Seattle – 7.3 penalties / game
- Pittsburgh – 7.1 penalties / game
- Kansas City – 6.8 penalties / game
- Dallas – 6.6 penalties / game
- Atlanta – 6.5 penalties / game
- Green Bay – 6.3 penalties / game
- New England – 5.8 penalties / game
- Houston – 5.4 penalties / game (lowest in entire NFL)
The NFL playoffs are a thing of beauty.
Still, much of that beauty comes from the physicality of an old-school game.