The NFL's London Conundrum
When NFL teams take the field this Sunday, for the first time in three weeks, they will all be on American soil (or turf, technically). The league’s 2016 three-game slate in London has come to a close, culminating with a 27-27 draw last week between the Cincinnati Bengals and Washington Redskins.
Nobody likes a tie, although it seemed a fitting conclusion to the year’s “International Series,” an NFL endeavor that many football lovers in this country are not particularly fond of. The attempt to broaden the sports’ appeal overseas has led to games with a growing reputation for being sloppy, poorly played affairs, and the October 30 Bengals-Redskins tilt was no exception.
The scoreless 15-minute overtime period (which extended past 1 pm Eastern time, when NFL fans typically first tune in for the day) consisted of two punts, a missed field goal, a fumble and a -1 yard drive on the final possession that began in Bengals territory but concluded with Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins throwing the ball wildly out of bounds on the game’s last play.
A week earlier, the Los Angeles Rams dropped an ugly 17-10 decision to the New York Giants in London. Los Angeles dominated the time of possession (35:03-24:57) but failed to score after the first quarter, in large part due to four interceptions thrown by quarterback Case Keenum, including one on each of the Rams’ final three drives.
On October 2, the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Indianapolis Colts 30-27 across the pond. The contest included 223 penalty yards, over 100 more that the NFL average this season (121.4 per game).
Teams were penalized a combined 163.3 yards per game in London this year, roughly 40 above the norm. Clubs also averaged 3.0 turnovers per game while playing in London in 2016, slightly more than the league-wide average of 2.6. Spanning 17 total London matchups dating back to 2007, the turnover average there stands at 3.3.
It should come as no surprise that the overall quality of the on-field product suffers when clubs make the trip to Europe. In a study of athletes using the WHOOP system, data revealed that although travel itself can take it’s toll, changing time zones also has a significant impact on performance. The NFL made a point to schedule byes for each team the week after visiting London, but all six squads took the field the previous Sunday, giving them little opportunity to adjust to their new surroundings and the massive time-zone switch. Clubs adopted varying philosophies in getting there, in particular the Rams and Giants.
Prior to their Sunday, October 23 meeting, Los Angeles (facing a shift of eight time zones) landed in England on Monday, flying directly from Detroit after losing there to the Lions. New York, on the other hand, chose to remain stateside until Thursday, arriving in London less that 48 hours before kickoff. From Martin Rodgers of USA Today Sports:
Perhaps the reason for this is simply that there isn’t a universally correct answer? No two athletes are the same. Every player’s body responds differently to different situations. Maybe heading to London a week early is the right choice to get some guys properly adjusted, but for others sticking to normal routines and “powering through” the hours before game time is the way to go?
WHOOP tracks each individual’s Sleep and Recovery, and in turn could help teams determine which players are capable of excelling under specific travel circumstances. As the NFL looks to expand its product across the globe, WHOOP has the potential to improve the games its fans back home are watching.