The NFL, to its credit, tries to continually improve the “product” on the field. Taking advantage of modern technology and player protection are two of the biggest changes in this upcoming season.
One of the biggest changes took place in the preseason. Previously, teams started with 90 players on the roster, cut down to 75 part way through training camp, and finally, to 53-man rosters after the final preseason games.
Starting this season, teams only cut from 90 players to 53 on September 2nd. While this led to a flurry of cuts on one day, it did give players on the bubble extra time to make their presence felt on the field.
The most obvious change for the fans is the new celebration rule. Players may now use the football as a prop when celebrating (for example, cradling it like a newborn), celebrate with teammates (such as the ‘99 Rams “Bob and Weave”), and celebrate on the ground (like the traditional snow angels).
Still forbidden are: using props other than the football, celebrations directed at an opponent, and violent or offensive celebrations (such as the throat-slash). The “No-Fun League” is lightening up a bit, but still keeping the entertainment value.
Overtime will now be limited to 10 minutes, instead of the traditional 15-minute period. Postseason games will continue in the sudden-death format.
A clarification now bans crack-back blocks by an offensive player in a backfield position and in motion, even if he is not more than two yards outside the tackle when the ball is snapped. A player in motion can legally block a defender if he blocks upfield and not back toward the position where the ball was snapped.
Running toward, and leaping, the line of scrimmage (so as to block a field goal or extra point) is now illegal if the player crosses the line of scrimmage. Previously, it was a foul only if other players are contacted.
The new rules also give a receiver “defenseless player” protection if the receiver is running a pass route when a defender approaches from behind or the side. The change prohibits forcible contact to the head or neck area or with the crown of the helmet. Once the receiver becomes a blocker or assumes a blocking posture, he no longer has defenseless player protection.
The owners also voted to extend two rules that were implemented for 2016 on a trial basis:
The rule that disqualifies a player if penalized twice in one game for certain unsportsmanlike conduct fouls was made permanent. The player is disqualified whether the penalty is accepted or declined by the opponent or whether the official judges the fouls to be flagrant. Fouls that occur during pregame warm-ups carry over into the game and the game official retains the discretion to judge a foul to be flagrant and disqualify a player after one occurrence. The fouls are:
- Throwing a punch or a forearm, or kicking at an opponent, regardless of whether the player makes contact with his opponent
- Directing abusive, threatening or insulting language or gestures toward opponents, teammates, officials or league representatives
- Using baiting or taunting acts or words that may engender ill will between teams.
The rule that touchbacks after a free kick will be spotted at the 25-yard line will be extended through the 2017 season, as its impact on game play is evaluated.
An addition to the rules of instant replay gives the referee access to a handheld Microsoft Surface for replay review instead of the sideline hood. Replays will all be reviewed at the New York office of the NFL during the game.
Last season the Ravens attempted to manipulate the clock by committing multiple fouls on the same play. This will now result in an Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalty.
A team is not permitted to conserve time after the two-minute warning of either half by committing any of these acts:
- a foul by either team that prevents the snap (i.e., false start, encroachment, etc.)
- intentional grounding
- an illegal forward pass thrown from beyond the line of scrimmage
- throwing a backward pass out of bounds
- spiking or throwing the ball in the field of play after a down has ended, except after a touchdown
- any other intentional foul that causes the clock to stop.