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Alliance of American Football opening weekend review

New York Giants v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Alliance of American Football is upon us.

On opening weekend, the games averaged about a 3.0 Nielsen rating (meaning ~3 million people watched each game), which eclipsed the NBA Showdown featuring their good teams, Saturday Night Live itself, and I didn’t notice the Grammy buzz until after the last game last night.

So now we know it’s watchable, right? What does the AAF have going for it?

The AAF is made up of 8 teams. There are two conferences. The East is made up of teams out of Atlanta, Birmingham, Memphis and Orlando. The West is made up of teams from San Antonio, San Diego, Tempe and Salt Lake City. Additionally, each team is “region-locked,” meaning their teams will be filled by players from colleges in the area of each team.

Teams are not limited to current/recent college players, either. In fact, the first QB taken in the draft was 30-year old Josh Johnson, who played for the Colts in 2015 and most recently played for the Washington Redskins. Garrett Gilbert is another QB name you’d recognize from his time with the Carolina Panthers. I saw Brandon Oliver run the ball and we had a Trent Richardson sighting this weekend! He had two touchdown runs!

I saw at least 3 NFL-ready QBs play a full game and can confirm you are not getting the best 32 QBs when you watch the NFL. Not for now, anyway. I feel like I can see that there is a dearth of offensive line talent and a great wealth of talent along the defensive line available. There are a handful of NFL ready WRs, TEs and CBs, and I can promise you that you will see an AAF player play in the NFL this year as well. Provided, of course, that said player doesn’t sign a contract that keeps him from doing so, and there is a clause that lets player opt out of their contract to play in the NFL.

This is not the ”D-league”. This is the future of the NFL. Something to keep in mind is that of all the active players in the NFL, over half of them were never drafted. UDFAs make the NFL move, and the AAF will go a long way to raise the stock of guys who aren’t invited to the Shrine/NFLPA/Senior Bowl games aimed at providing exposure for players. Better UDFAs means better football later on in the NFL season.

Games take place on the weekends and will tend to start at 8pm Saturday and 4pm Sunday, to correct myself from my last post. Yes, I sat down to watch at 4pm Saturday and wound up just waiting around until the 8pm start time. The league will have a 10-week regular season and will also have a 2-week playoff culminating with the championship game being played the Saturday after the opening rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft (which is perfect timing, right!?).

I get that none of the teams are local to Indianapolis, but as I’ve already pointed out, there are several former Colts players blanketing the league and given how good the Colts are at evaluating talent, it’s fair to say that there are players in the AAF that will wind up in a Colts uniform eventually as well.

The major difference between what the NFL offers and what the AAF has going for it is that first, the league requires only one foot down on a catch, just like college rules. There is a 35-second play clock and there are no commercial breaks between scores, shortening the overall length of the game to around 2 hours. There are no kickoffs, instead the offense gets the ball at the 25-yard line. In the event you need the ball back after scoring, there is no onside kick. Instead, the trying team gets the ball on the 28-yard line and has one play to gain 12 yards.

There are still field goals and punts, but teams must attempt 2-point conversions instead of extra point tries on touchdowns. In the event of overtime, Kansas Playoff rules are used. This means each team gets the ball on offense from the 10-yard line going in and 4 downs to score. If Team A scores and Team B scores, the game ends in a tie. If only one team scores, that team wins. If neither teams score, teams trade possession until a winner is determined.

Of course, not all of these rules/rules changes are great and I certainly expect certain rules to get poo-pooed to death, but the sky ref in the press box is absolutely amazing. After a questionable touchdown catch, we all got to watch an official break down a catch going to the ground on a scoring play. Originally, she said the ball helped the receiver and that it’s an incomplete pass. Then, as she re-watched the play, she was able to see that the receiver’s hand was below the ball the entire time and never touched the ground, which led to her confirming the call as a touchdown.

I know it doesn’t sound like it, but watching a call get made, overturned and then confirmed because of an effective review process is a step in the right direction for football as a whole. A reminder for those that watched is the sky ref can also call and reverse penalties, something football fans have clamored for forever, especially in the wake of that horrific no-call in the NFC Championship game. I’m not shedding a tear for Saints fans any time soon, but I did see the play happen and disagreed with the no-call. There, I said it.

Any football is awesome, but the AAF isn’t the XFL. It isn’t a minor league. It’s not a dumb parade, either. Bill Polian started this league and on that name alone, I think it will serve a unique purpose in helping to improve the overall quality of football in the NFL and even give guys who don’t get to live out that dream a second chance. Again, Trent Richardson had two rushing touchdowns this weekend! How long has it been since we said that?