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Column: Time for NFL to pare down the rule book

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Column: Time for NFL to pare down the rule book

The NFL is America's pastime, hands down.

Imagine how much fun it would be if they got rid of about half the rule book.

The replay challenge penalty? The tuck rule? Muffed punts can't be advanced?

Ridiculously harsh. Completely unnecessary. No idea why it's like that.

The league clearly has too many folks on the payroll who have too little to do, so they get together from time to time in fancy hotels to come up with ways to justify their existence.

The result is a set of rules that have grown into a convoluted mess, with no sense of what is reasonable or even needed. It's as though the NFL is trying to keep everyone - the players, the fans, the coaches, even the officials - in a constant state of guesswork.

We can imagine a day when we'll hear the referee explain a call thusly:

``Due to the coach challenging a play that was already subject to an automatic review, but because he was able to tuck his red flag back into his pocket before he muffed it, we will assess a 15-yard penalty, run 20 seconds off the clock, and order his team to switch conferences.''

A bit over the top, for sure.

But not by much.

The league needs to get busy, expunging the rules that aren't needed and bringing some common sense to the rest. Start with the head-shaking replay rule that may have cost the Detroit Lions a much-needed win on Thanksgiving Day.

That one should be erased from the books immediately.

``This comes up every year,'' said Ray Anderson, the NFL's director of football operations. ``Can we simplify and be more cohesive and get rid of some rules that may be offshoots? We will go through that exercise again. We have rewritten some of the rulebook over the course of the last few years, to try to simplify it and get it to be more coherent.''

Clearly, there's still a lot of work to do, thanks to a ``we must have a rule for everything that can possibly happen on a football field at any given time in the course of human history'' mindset.

The replay challenge penalty has already been called several times, including the previous week in Atlanta, but no team was impacted more than the Lions' in their overtime loss to the Texans. For those eating turkey at the time, the officials clearly blew a call on a long touchdown run by Houston. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, justifiably outraged, threw his red challenge flag to make sure the play was reviewed. That wasn't really necessary, since scoring plays are subject to an automatic check from the replay official.

So, a sensible person might say, what's the problem? The officials pick up their yellow flags all the time. They could just tell the coach to take a chill pill.

But the NFL decided that coaches wanting to challenge a call that was already going to be reviewed anyway was a potential menace that could ruin the very fabric of the game. That without some of rule to prevent unnecessary dissent and embarrassment of officials, the field could run red with challenge flags.

So, when a coach commits such a grievous act, he is assessed a 15-yard penalty (the same sanction that's handed out to a player who tries to rip off an opponent's head). And not only does his team lose the yardage, the officials are no longer allowed to review a play they were going to look at in the first place.

Huh?

Anderson, in perhaps the most obvious statement that will ever come from his lips, acknowledged the penalty ``may be too harsh'' and will be reviewed immediately.

Hallelujah!

Hey, while they're at it, here's a few more things the NFL needs to change or eliminate:

- The tuck rule. Why this one is still around - more than a decade after it reared its ugly head in a New England-Oakland playoff game - remains one of life's great mysteries. If a quarterback's arm is going forward when he loses the ball, it's an incomplete pass. If not, it's a fumble. Simple as that. Allowing a team to keep the ball because the QB lost control while trying to tuck it away is utter nonsense.

- A muffed ball can be recovered by the punting team, but not advanced. Apparently, this one stems from the theory that a returner who touches the ball but never has control of it didn't actually fumble. Hogwash. If the coverage team can recover the loose ball, they should be able to run with it. Period.

- Interference penalties. The NFL is always reluctant to copy the college game, but this is one case where it clearly should. When a defensive back interferes with a receiver, it should be a 15-yard penalty (as it is in college), not marked at the spot of the foul (the pro rule). Maybe if the defender flagrantly drags down a receiver, the current penalty could still be applied. Otherwise, there's no reason for interference - a debatable call in so many cases - to potentially result in a much worse penalty than a horrific personal foul (which is 15 yards). While they're at it, increase the penalty for defensive holding from 5 to 10 yards, but get rid of the automatic first down.

- Overtime. The NFL rightly decided a few years ago that it wasn't fair for a game to potentially be decided by a coin flip. Of course, they didn't just go with the obvious solution (allowing each team to have at least one offensive possession in overtime), coming up with a ``modified sudden death'' rule. If the receiving team scores a touchdown on its first possession, it wins the game. But if the team getting the ball first kicks a go-ahead field goal, the other team gets a possession. Another example of the NFL over-thinking a problem.

- Icing the kicker. Coaches have become enamored with the idea of trying to call a timeout right before an opponent attempts a game-winning kick, which is just plain silly. First of all, it rarely works. Secondly, it leads to far too many unnecessary delays at the most dramatic point in the game. If a coach wants to call a timeout to make a kicker think about it, he should do it before the play clock gets down to 10 seconds. After that, only the kicking team can stop it.

Any other suggestions are welcome.

Just send them straight to the NFL headquarters in New York City.

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Paul Newberry in a national writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at pnewberry(at)ap.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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Parting with Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers shows how badly Wizards needed someone like Trevor Ariza

Parting with Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers shows how badly Wizards needed someone like Trevor Ariza

The Washington Wizards this season have lacked plenty of things, but three stand out above all: defense, rebounding and leadership. On Saturday, they made a trade aiming to address all of the above, and they paid a hefty price to do so.

In comes Trevor Ariza, a 33-year-old veteran who needs no introduction in Washington. He returns to the organization four years after leaving in free agency. He already has experience playing alongside John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr.

Out the door are two key members of the Wizards rotation. They shipped Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers to Phoenix, stripping them of their backup shooting guard and small forward and two players averaging over 23 minutes per game this season.

The Wizards are giving up quite a bit. Rivers, though he has struggled this season, was brought in just months ago to solve their problems at backup shooting guard. Now Beal is the only true shooting guard on their roster. That should help Tomas Satoransky earn a more solidified role.

Oubre was a first round pick in 2015 and the Wizards could have made him a restricted free agent this summer. At times over the past two-plus years, he appeared to be one of their most attractive trade assets based on his youth and contract, someone who could net more than an Ariza-type.

But with a desperate need for what Ariza provides, the Wizards had to make a difficult decision. They are banking on him having a similar impact to what he gave them in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons, when the Wizards were at their best defensively in the Wall era.

Whether he can still be the same player, or something close to it, remains to be seen. Back in his first tenure in D.C., he was playing through his age 27 and 28 seasons. The latter was a contract year and happened to include the best numbers of his career.

Now, he's 33 and arriving in Washington with a 37.9 field goal percentage. He is also making $15 million this season and set to be a free agent next summer.

Even though Oubre and Rivers were on expiring deals, this is a play for the short-term. Ariza is much later in his career than they are and isn't under contract beyond this season. Plus, bringing him in saves the Wizards a bit over $2 million when accounting for the luxury tax.

Their hope is that he will help shore up the perimeter. The Wizards are 27th in the NBA in opponents three-point percentage and Ariza has long been good at disrupting outside shooters.

The Wizards want rebounding and, though Ariza is not a big man, he is adept on the glass. Washington ranks 28th in rebounding and 29th in opponent rebounding. Ariza comes in averaging 5.6 per game.

The Wizards may also see a benefit from a team chemistry perspective. Ariza is familiar with the locker room leadership structure having played in Washington before. He is a respected veteran and can help set a more blue-collar tone on defense.

Ariza, when he's at his best, is a very valuable player. Even with his field goal percentage down, Ariza is shooting a respectable 36 percent from three and averaging 1.5 steals per game.

It's clear the Wizards desperately wanted Ariza by the way this trade went down. Not only did they part with two key rotation members, but they took a deal that didn't involve draft picks. When the reports first broke on Friday night, the Wizards were expected to receive more compensation in the way of second round picks.

The biggest impact of this trade as this season plays out may involve the Wizards' depth. Though they got a nice player in Ariza, they parted with two core members of their second unit and left an open roster spot they have to fill. If the Wizards go with an inexpensive option to fill the 14th spot, like they did with Okaro White and Chasson Randle, their roster will be even more top-heavy.

The disappointing start to the Wizards' season clearly has them weighing their long-term options. Oubre wasn't in the plans, and they want to save their season, along with some money. In comes Ariza, hoping to give the Wizards what they have been desperately be lacking.

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A personal best is on the line Saturday against the Sabrs for Alex Ovechkin

A personal best is on the line Saturday against the Sabrs for Alex Ovechkin

There’s no rest for the weary as the Capitals return to action on Saturday just one night after a win over the Carolina Hurricanes. On Saturday, Washington returns home to host the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) looking for their fifth straight win.

Here are five things to watch:

Ovechkin’s best season ever?

Ovechkin tied his career-best 13-game point streak on Friday and will look to surpass it on Saturday…at the age of 33.

Ovechkin has been absolutely dominant over the last 13 games with 16 goals and 22 points and he has six goals in his past two games with consecutive hat tricks.

If Ovechkin does make it to 14 games then it’s time to start looking ahead to the franchise record. Yes, there are still some franchise records that Ovechkin has not yet broken. The team record for most consecutive games with at least a point belongs to Mike Gartner who strung together a point streak of 17 games twice over the course of his Caps career.

The Pheonix rises…probably

After Braden Holtby got the start on Friday, Pheonix Copley is expected to get the start for Saturday’s game. It will be his first start since winning on Dec. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes.

Copley has been a pleasant surprise in net. Backup goaltending was thought to be a weakness for the Caps this season with the departure of Philipp Grubauer, but Copley has compiled a record of 6-2-1 over 10 appearances.

In his last start, he saved 27 of 29 shots for a save percentage of .931. He will have his hands full Saturday trying to keep Jeff Skinner off the board. The former Carolina Hurricane has found new life in Buffalo and is third in the league in goals with 22.

Should we be worried about the PK?

After not allowing a power play goal in the last three games, Washington almost saw their win streak come to an end in Carolina as the penalty kill gave up three goals on six power plays to the Hurricanes.

Saturday’s game should be a good chance for the PK to get back on track as Buffalo ranks only 19th on the power play at 18.4-percent. There are certainly weapons the Caps need to account for with Skinner and Jack Eichel out on the ice, but this game should be a good litmus test to see if the penalty kill took a step back or if Friday’s game was just a blip on the radar.

Burakovsky back?

Andre Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch for the last two games, but a back-to-back could give Todd Reirden a chance to get him back in the lineup. Burakovsky has responded well to these scratches in the past and always looks offensively dangerous whenever he returns. There’s more on the line this season than just playing time, however, as he is on the final year of his current contract. If he does get into the lineup Saturday, he needs to perform.

Everybody’s going streaking!

The Caps have gone 11-2-0 over their last 13 games and have scored three goals or more in each of those games, the longest streak for the team since 2010 when they did it for 23 games from January to March.

When the team is finding that much offensive success, it’s no surprise that many of the team’s players are also enjoying hot streaks of their own besides Ovechkin.

Evgeny Kuznetsov is currently enjoying the quietest seven-game point streak you will ever witness as he has tallied one goal and eight assists over that stretch. Travis Boyd is also in the midst of a three-game goal streak with the first three goals of his NHL career. In fact, the entire fourth line of Boyd, Nic Dowd and Dmitrij Jaskin is red-hot with 16 points in the last six games.

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