There is pageantry within the N.F.L.—excess, shamelessness, rawness, and a struggle for control by League overseers in the face of many tendencies toward anarchy—that has made the League more successful than any other American professional sport. At the same time, it is more imperilled. This has been a season of sold-out stadiums and high cable ratings. But it may also be remembered as the beginning of the end—the season in which the League’s balance sheet of accumulating liabilities became fully apparent.
The best on-field story this weekend will take place in Indianapolis, where the Colts head coach Chuck Pagano returns after a three-month leave that he required to seek treatment for leukemia. In November, Pagano’s doctors announced that his disease was in remission. He is coming back for a final regular-season home game against the Houston Texans that doesn’t mean much to the Colts—they are already in the playoffs, as a wild-card entry, behind the rookie quarterback Andrew Luck’s four thousand yards and twenty-one touchdown passes.