Is my love affair with the NFL over?

If you read the headline to this post, it looks an awful lot like clickbait. Is my love affair with the NFL over? Click this to find out if it is!

But I’m actually asking the question because I honestly don’t know: Am I heading toward a breakup with the NFL?

The signs are definitely concerning. Sunday was the first time all season I’ve been at home and had a chance to watch the games, since I’m normally on the road at a NASCAR race somewhere.

And yet…I didn’t watch a minute of football on Sunday. Not one. I don’t really have a firm reason why, either.

Before you ask — no, it’s not because of the anthem protests. That has nothing to do with it. And it’s not because I’ve somehow reached a tipping point with CTE/concussions.

But it’s sort of alarming how fast it’s happened, and so I’m trying to figure out why. Football used to be my favorite sport — even above racing. I’ve seen games in 24 of the current NFL stadiums as a fan (my goal was once to see a game in every stadium) and I used to obsess over all things NFL.

Suddenly, though, I just don’t have the same passion for it. Why is that? What happened?

A few theories:

— I cut the cord and no longer have the Red Zone Channel. Now that I watch TV through the DirecTV Now app on my Apple TV, I don’t have access to Red Zone. Maybe I got spoiled by Red Zone, because that’s how I would consume games 90 percent of the time when I had a Sunday at home in recent years. Red Zone had no commercials, the action was constant and it kept things entertaining. Now that I can’t see it, it’s hard to get invested in a normal, three-hour game. Expecting me to sit there and just watch Jets-Chiefs straight through is asking too much.

— I stopped playing fantasy football. I used to run a fantasy football league up until last season, but it got to be too much of a time suck. And since I was on the road at NASCAR races and couldn’t watch the games anyway, I ultimately decided not to play fantasy football. And WOW, does that change things! When I don’t have a player in the Thursday night game or Monday night game or whenever, it removes so much of the reason to watch. And I know there’s always DraftKings, but even that seems pointless without Red Zone or Sunday Ticket.

— My team blows. I’m a huge Denver Broncos fan — that’s the team I care about the most in all of sports — and they suck this year. They’re completely out of it. So there’s no reason to try and find their games on TV or make an effort to follow the AFC West division race, which normally might have kept me interested on a Sunday.

In general, teams aren’t greatAs much as I love parity, it doesn’t make for attractive viewing. After Sunday, 14 teams are within one game of being .500. That’s nearly half the league being incredibly average. And a lot of the “good” teams this year are recently good, which makes it harder to have any feeling toward them. For example: The L.A. Rams are somehow 9-3 and the Vikings are 10-2 (I have no idea how that happened because I haven’t followed it much). A game between a 9-3 team and 10-2 team would normally sound quite interesting — but if they played next week, I probably wouldn’t watch. I’m sorry, but I just don’t really care at the moment.

Check back with me when the playoffs start and I’ll probably care more. Otherwise, there are a lot of other things to do on a Sunday — even if the weather isn’t nice outside — and the NFL just doesn’t have my attention right now for whatever reason.

This all is very surprising to me, because there’s no particular reason I’d suddenly lose the passion for what was my favorite sport. I just don’t feel the NFL is giving me a reason to consume its content. I haven’t been checking scores, watching highlights or following the standings much. I see people make reference to the games on Twitter and post GIFs, but that’s about it.

I’m not bragging about this, because it’s not like I’m happy about it. I’d like to get invested in NFL Sundays again. But the more I think about it, I’m not sure I really miss it.

NASCAR driver popularity in the Dale Jr. Era

Since Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the Most Popular Driver award 15 straight times, there’s no dispute which driver was the most liked by fans in the last decade and a half.

But who were the other popular drivers during that time? Well, we actually know the answer to that question because the National Motorsports Press Association (which administers the award) has released a top 10 of the voting each year since Earnhardt first won it in 2003.

Only seven of the current 10 most popular drivers will return next season — Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. That’s in alphabetical order, because the NMPA no longer releases the order of the final voting (they used to not only release the order, but also the vote totals).

Who will the other three be? It seems fairly wide open at the moment.

That’s because only two active drivers — Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — have ever made the top 10 in the past and failed to make it this year.

All other active drivers — including the likes of Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Clint Bowyer — have never appeared on the top 10 list.

At the bottom of this post, I’ve compiled a spreadsheet of all the data dating back to 2003. But first, a few observations:

What happened to Harvick? This is the biggest mystery from the voting. Harvick was the third-most popular driver in 2003 and 2004, then dropped to the bottom half of the list over the next decade — but was still in the top 10 for every year from 2003-13. But he has now missed the top 10 in three of the last four years (starting with the year he won the championship, oddly enough). Perhaps it’s because he’s been more affected than anyone with old-school fans abandoning the sport (assuming his fan base early on had a large portion of Dale Sr. fans after he took over that ride in 2001). What are some other theories?

— Truex on the rise. Martin Truex Jr. never made the top 10 in voting until the past two seasons — this despite being a full-time driver since 2006.

— New faces emerge. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson both made the top 10 in voting for the first time this season. Chase Elliott has made it in each of his first two years.

— Streak continues. Of the remaining active drivers, who has the longest streak of making the list? It’s a tie between Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne, who have both appeared every year since 2004. But while Johnson has typically been in the bottom half of the voting when the order has been revealed, Kahne is usually toward the top (and got as high as second in 2013).

— That 2014 list! Seven of the 10 drivers from 2014 are no longer in the sport full time. Of course, that’s a bit misleading since Josh Wise made the top 10 that year based on the Reddit push. But the other six drivers (Earnhardt, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart) took up a combined 68 spots in the top 10 over 15 years — and that’s going to be hard to replace.

Here’s the spreadsheet I compiled if you want to look at the raw data. “Yes” signifies they appeared in the top 10 that year; in years when the NMPA released the order, the driver’s position in the top 10 is noted.

Fan Profile: Jeff Anderson

This is the latest in a series of NASCAR fan profiles. You can catch up on previous editions here.

Name: Jeff Anderson

Location:  Allen, Texas

Twitter name: @jeffanderson42

Age: 46

1. How long have you been a NASCAR fan?

Since the early 80’s. Hardcore since ’92.

2. How many races have you attended?

As of the start of 2017, 105 Cup races.  Double that if you count the lower-tier series.

3. Who is your No. 1 favorite driver?

It was Jeff Gordon. Now it’s Chase Elliott.

4. What made you a fan of Gordon?

I’m from Indiana, so I followed his career in sprint cars.  Even saw him race a couple of times before the jump to NASCAR.  When he made that move, I followed his progress.  Never imagined he would become what he did.

5. Who is your most disliked driver?

Denny Hamlin.

6. Why don’t you like him?

He just doesn’t seem mentally “ready for prime time” and never seems to take responsibility for his many mistakes.  His attitude towards other drivers at times has been particularly two-faced, in my opinion.

7. What is your favorite track?

Darlington. Love the racing up against the wall.

8. What is one thing you would change if you were in charge of NASCAR?

As a long time hardcore fan, I would kill to be able to get my hands on a Hot Pass.  It’s a shame that those seem to only go to people that are sponsor affiliated or know somebody.  I understand why those people get them, but I would love to spend a weekend hanging out in the garage just watching what all goes on up close.

9. What is one thing you would keep the same if you were in charge of NASCAR?

I’m torn. The playoffs have added a level of excitement and drama that is hard to quantify. In this day and age of short attention spans, I think you have to have the type of playoffs we have now. I just worry that we will get a champion one of these times that really isn’t indicative of the season. I’m hopeful that the new tweaks to the system have made that less likely.

10. How often do you yell at the TV during a race?

Not as much as when Gordon was still driving, although the late yellows with Chase Elliott leading did illicit a fair amount of shouting at the screen.

11. Do you have any advice for other fans?

When you go to the track, spring for whatever pit road access you can get and spend time there during practice. Also move around to different parts of the stands and watch. Get down close to the track at a place like Phoenix and see the car dig into the corner. On race day, walk the pit road and look at all the equipment. At Kansas, for example, the season ticket comes with the pre-race pass where you can see inspection up close and the drivers meeting as well as walk pit road.

12. What else do you want the NASCAR world to know about you?

I used to travel for work a lot and would plan some of my trips to coincide with race weekends for tracks we didn’t usually attend. I visited places like Richmond, New Hampshire and Talladega that way. The people I worked with would figure I was coming to town because it was race weekend! It’s now easer for me to name the tracks I haven’t been to than the ones I have. 

Videos from Champions Week in Las Vegas

Here’s a recap of the videos I made from the recent trip to Las Vegas.

Short version of the ridealong with Denny Hamlin:

Long version of the ridealong with Denny Hamlin:

NASCAR tire carrier Paul Swan’s marriage proposal to Monster Energy girl Mariel Lane after the awards ceremony:

Postseason Mega-Driver Podcast from Las Vegas

Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Austin Dillon and Sherry Pollex play along as I ambush them for a podcast at Champions Week in Las Vegas.

Regan Smith to join FOX Sports NASCAR coverage as pit reporter

There will be an intriguing new face on pit road when FOX Sports begins next season’s NASCAR coverage at Daytona.

FOX is expected to announce later today that Regan Smith, the veteran racer who worked as an analyst for FS1’s Race Hub, will become FOX’s newest pit reporter and join Jamie Little, Matt Yocum and Vince Welch on pit road. Chris Neville had been a pit reporter for FOX but will not return.

Smith made 13 starts in the Camping World Truck Series this season — as well as two starts in the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43 car and one start for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series — which means he brings a current driver’s viewpoint to his analysis. That has worked well on Race Hub and also shined during an Xfinity Series broadcast last season at Iowa.

“My biggest goal in joining pit road is to be able to give viewers something they didn’t know before or to better help them understand something going on with the driver or the car,” Smith said in a statement. “Since I am still competing, I can put into perspective what a driver is feeling at a particular moment.”

The new pit reporter role for Smith will be for both Cup Series and Xfinity broadcasts on FOX.

Smith doesn’t have any current plans to compete next season, but indicated he hasn’t driven his last race. There seems to be a movement in NASCAR TV right now toward more current analysts — FOX has Jeff Gordon and Smith, while NBC just hired Dale Earnhardt Jr. to go along with Jeff Burton, Steve Letarte and Parker Kligerman — who, like Smith, has balanced insightful analysis with maintaining an active driving career.

Steve Craddock, FOX Sports senior vice president of NASCAR Production, said Smith’s stint as an analyst during the Iowa race last year opened executives’ eyes to his potential as a broadcaster.

“A fan and peer favorite, he has proven himself seamless in translating his years of driving experience to the viewers at home,” Craddock said in a statement.

Aside from Smith, the FOX broadcasts will have a familiar look. Mike Joy, Darrell Waltrip and Gordon return to the Cup booth, with Larry McReynolds as an additional analyst. Adam Alexander and Michael Waltrip will broadcast the FOX portion of the Xfinity Series — with a rotation of Cup driver guest analysts — and Welch will call the Truck Series races alongside Phil Parsons and Waltrip.

Pit reporters for the Xfinity races will be Little, Yocum and Smith; Hermie Sadler, Kaitlyn Vincie and Alan Cavanna will call pit road in the Trucks.

In addition, FOX is expected to bring back its “Drivers Only” broadcast for an Xfinity race in 2018 after it was well-received at Pocono this season.

Survivor Heroes vs. Healers vs. Hustlers Power Rankings: Week 10

Each week during this season of Survivor, I’ll be ranking the castaways in terms of best chance to win the game. Last week, Cole was voted off after being ranked No. 10 of the 10 remaining players.

Week 10 Power Rankings: 

1. Lauren (Last week: 2): As all the frontrunners keep making mistakes (Ryan telling too many people about his idol, Chrissy getting too cocky, Ben being too bossy), Lauren’s chances improve. She’s tight with Ben, and now Devon is in their mini-alliance; she also has an extra vote to use when she wants. Obviously she’s playing quietly and under the radar, but that only helps her chances of reaching the end.

2. Devon (Last week: 5): I’m putting him up high for the same reason as Lauren — I’m frustrated with Ben, Ryan and Chrissy making mistakes right now and am starting to doubt their long-term chances. Devon wisely chose to team with Ben after hearing about Ryan’s big mouth, and can you blame him?

3. Ben (Last week: 4): Still the best of the frontrunners, but I didn’t like how he was being so controlling of the vote and not listening to others. That “chief” label has burned many players.

4. Ryan (Last week: 1): He’s going to have to scramble now that he broke Devon’s trust (and doesn’t even realize it yet). But his game was always going to be about scrambling, so he still has a shot.

5. Chrissy (Last week: 3): She just seems way too comfortable with the seven-person alliance. I don’t feel like she’s playing a winning game right now. Ben has slipped away to be tighter with Lauren, and who does she really have aside from Ryan? Plus, I’m still stunned she didn’t count the votes correctly last week when Lauren used the advantage. She’s supposed to be a math whiz!

6. Mike (Last week: 6): Really, Mike? REALLY? He talked like he was making this game-altering move…and then he totally misplayed his idol. Just wasted it! And he apparently flopped in trying to draw more votes his way, which made people mad in the process. I feel like perhaps he just got too antsy and impatient; maybe if he waited a few more days, cracks would have formed in the seven-person alliance.

7. Joe (Last week: 8): C’mon. No one is going to vote for Joe to win a million bucks at this point. He might get dragged to the final three, but I can’t picture him winning after making so many people mad.

8. Ashley (Last week: 7): I felt bad for her after Joe called her out as being a goat, but…dang, he’s kind of right. What is Ashley doing strategically to win the game? Not much that we’re seeing. She’s sort of becoming a floater as the alliance cruises along, and I can’t see that being rewarded in the end if she doesn’t make some big moves.

9. JP (Last week: 9): Hello? JP? You know you’re still out on the island, right? You can start playing now. Annnnnytime now.


Eliminated: 

Week 1: Katrina (ranked No. 6 of 18 remaining players)

Week 2: Simone (ranked No. 17 of 17 remaining players)

Week 3: Patrick (ranked No. 16 of 16 remaining players)

Week 4: Alan (ranked No. 13 of 15 remaining players)

Week 5: Roark (ranked No. 10 of 14 remaining players)

Week 6: Ali (ranked No. 5 of 13 remaining players)

Week 7: Jessica (ranked No. 9 of 12 remaining players)

Week 8: Desi (ranked No. 8 of 11 remaining players)

Week 9: Cole (ranked No. 10 of 10 remaining players)