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  1. Bucs

Jones: For NFL, it's not all bad. Check the bottom line.

I'm starting to wonder why, exactly, we all love the National Football League so much.

If it's not a player hitting his fiancee (Ray Rice), then it's another hitting a child (Adrian Peterson). If it's not a player accused of hitting his girlfriend (Greg Hardy), then it's a player definitely hitting a teammate (the former Jets backup who punched out QB Geno Smith).

There's Aldon Smith, released by the 49ers last week after numerous arrests for DUI, hit-and-run, felony weapon possession, firing shots in the air and just general bad behavior. There's last week's Hall of Fame induction, which had a somber feel because inductee Junior Seau was not there. He's dead from having committed suicide, perhaps the result of a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head, a topic that continues to cast a dark cloud over the sport's future.

And of course, there's this never-ending bad dream called Deflategate, in which one of the biggest names in the history of the sport (Patriots QB Tom Brady) is accused of cheating by a commissioner (Roger Goodell) no one really seems to trust or like.

This might be the worst offseason the NFL has ever had.

With all these stories, with that backdrop, you would think the NFL would be struggling to maintain its popularity.

You would be wrong.

Case in point: Sunday's preseason kickoff — the Hall of Fame game between the Vikings and Steelers — featured a bunch of scrubs who won't make their teams, and it still was by far the most-watched TV show of the night. It drew better ratings than the most recent Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final (between the Lightning and Blackhawks), Indianapolis 500, Game 1 of both conference finals in the NBA and Game 1 of both league championship series in baseball.

Wait until the real games start.

No matter what the NFL does, no matter what embarrassments its players cause, no matter what awful headlines appear, the NFL just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

That's obviously good for the NFL.

And maybe just as bad, too.

It's that arrogance born from a sense of invincibility that lets the league believe it is above the law. It's that smugness that comes from the feeling of being bulletproof that allows it to cheat and lie. And it's the hubris born from our blind loyalty to the sport that has given the entire league the sense that it can do whatever it darn well pleases.

So you have players who slug women. So you have teams that replace the word "cheating'' with "gamesmanship.'' So you have a commissioner so drunk with power that he ignores due process and common sense in his effort to be judge, jury and executioner. So you have a league that has become a human demolition derby with players often playing until they physically cannot continue.

In the end, it's probably our fault the league acts like it's the greatest thing ever invented, because we treat it like it's the greatest thing ever invented.

We wear the jerseys. We buy the TV packages. We go to the games.

So how do we fix a league gone rogue, assuming that the league eventually will need fixing?

It starts with Goodell. Though he has the support of the owners because he makes them gobs of money, those same owners need to realize that players and fans have lost their faith in him.

This is a result of how he has butchered suspensions over the past year, from Rice to Hardy to Brady. Though the players gave Goodell complete authority to rule over discipline in the collective bargaining agreement, it has become clear that his inconsistent rulings have alienated the players and made him a punch line among fans.

Once considered the Hanging Judge for his iron-fisted ways, Goodell has become a blade of grass, twisting with the wind, making his rulings based on popular opinion.

Here's how his rulings tend to go: He suspends a player. Hears complaints from fans and media. Changes ruling. Hears complaints from players. Next thing you know, there's talk of a lawsuit, and that makes him look only less powerful and the league less credible.

Though it would appear that Goodell's job is secure, it is time for him to hand the discipline over to someone else. Honestly, I can't understand why he would even want that duty anymore. Maybe he could get together with the players and come up with someone trusted by everyone to rule on discipline.

If that someone has real bite to his rulings, then maybe the players will finally get it through their thick skulls that they can't just go around punching whoever they want, smoking whatever they want, driving as fast as they want. Maybe then teams won't spy on other teams or take air out of footballs or pump fake noise into their buildings. Maybe then we will finally have rules in place to protect the players from one another.

Maybe NBA owner Mark Cuban was right when he said, "Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.''

His point? The NFL is too greedy, too arrogant. It needs to recognize its problems before worrying about putting teams in Los Angeles and London.

Then again, maybe the NFL knows that we're going to watch football no matter what.

That is true. We are going to watch.

But wouldn't it be nice to at least feel good about the sport that has become our national pastime?

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