Welcome to the NFL’s dead zone – a two-week period that is notable mostly for what it does not contain.
We are entering the weakest part of the NFL’s entire calendar year. Most NFL teams have now played their third exhibition, which means all they are going to do in Week 4 is rest the starters, play another meaningless game and then begin the long road to the first real Sunday on Sept. 13.
The farcical nature of all these exhibitions is more apparent this year, as teams play starters less and less to try and cut the risk of injury.
In particular, torn ACLs have been a theme this preseason, with more than two dozen of them across the NFL in practice or fake games (the Panthers have had two of the season-ending knee injuries, to wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Stephen Hill).
The NFL and the players’ association have to get something worked out so that the preseason is cut in half, from four games to two. If that means an 18-game regular season, great – I’d prefer that.
But if it’s still just a 16-game regular season, that’s OK, too. Very few people want four exhibitions, especially not the fans who have to pay full price for them in season-ticket packages. It’s time to dispense with the nonsense.
▪ NATIONAL CHAMP WILL BE ... My final four in college football this year? Give me Ohio State, Alabama, Baylor and Clemson, with Ohio State repeating as national champions. As for the ACC championship game in Charlotte this December, I am picking Clemson over Georgia Tech.
▪ PANTHERS’ RECORD WILL BE ... My Panthers prediction? You will have to wait until next Sunday, Sept. 6, for that one. That’s the date the Observer’s special Panthers section will publish, with exclusive content and analysis on a Carolina team that will try for its third straight playoff berth this season. As usual, fellow columnist Tom Sorensen and I will post our predictions for the season in that section.
▪ 49ERS OPEN FRIDAY: Good to see the Charlotte 49ers will make it on to one of the ESPNs this coming week. The 49ers’ road football game at Georgia State in Atlanta will be telecast on ESPNU Friday at 3:30 p.m. That game also should be one of the 49ers’ more winnable games of a difficult transitional season in which a finishing record of below .500 has to be expected.