A look at some of the changes and top things to watch for in the NFL’s new season:
What’s new in NFL 2014
Goalposts are taller: The league extended the height of the goalposts from 30 to 35 feet, part of an effort to help officials make definitive rulings on field goals.
Replay adjustment: During replay reviews, referees will now confer with NFL officiating bosses in New York. The on-field referee will still make the decision.
Tablets: Players and coaches will be holding tablets along the sidelines this season to review recent plays, a first for the NFL. It’s a big change from when players and coaches used printed photos. The tablets can be used only for NFL-approved images and will not have access to other applications. So don’t expect to see players on the bench playing Clash of Clans.
No more goalpost spiking: Jimmy Graham has dunked his last football between the uprights (we think). The NFL outlawed the Saints tight end’s signature touchdown celebration by extending the ban on props to include the goalpost. (Though that didn’t stop Graham from testing the rule twice in a preseason game — drawing two penalties and the scorn of coach Sean Payton.) The move was motivated by a Graham dunk last season that dislodged a goalpost and caused a delay in the game.
Limits on linemen: While cut blocks are still legal, offensive linemen can no longer roll into the side of a defender to execute a cut block. Such a move will result in a 15-yard penalty. Also, linemen on both sides of the ball will be subject to an increased emphasis on the illegal-hands-to-the-face rule, which will be flagged even for incidental contact.
Limits on pass defense: The NFL intends to increase protection of pass catchers outside of the 5-yard bump zone off the line of scrimmage. In short, defenders will not be allowed to initiate contact with receivers beyond 5 yards from the line of scrimmage. In the preseason, this led to an increase in defensive holding and illegal-contact penalties.
“Thursday Night Football” on CBS: NFL games on Thursday nights aren’t new; this is the third year of a full season of midweek games. But the Thursday night games being broadcast on a major network is new, with CBS launching its eight-game schedule in Week 2. But you may still need to rely on the TV guide for Thursday night viewing. Two of the games, the opener and the Thanksgiving nightcap, are on NBC. And NFL Network will broadcast most of the November-December games, along with simulcasting CBS’s contests.
Saturday football: NFL games on Saturday used to be a schedule staple after the college season. That ended in recent years, but will make a one-week return in Week 16 with NFL Network (4:30 p.m) and CBS (8 p.m.) each airing a game. The matchups will be Eagles-Redskins and Chargers-49ers, with time slots to be determined.
Practice squads are bigger: The NFL expanded practice squads from 8 to 10 players and widened the pool of players who are eligible for them.
Flex scheduling expands: The window of flexible scheduling that allows the league to change the Sunday night game has been expanded from seven to 13 weeks. Sunday games can now change start times as early as Week 5.
“Cross-flexing” begins: The days when you could count on CBS broadcasting all AFC Sunday afternoon games and Fox all NFC Sunday afternoon games are over. The NFL begins “cross-flexing” games — basically, sending CBS games to Fox, and vice versa — this season. So, for example, Buffalo at Chicago in Week 1 (traditionally a CBS game because the visiting team’s network owned the rights) will be on Fox, and Atlanta at Cincinnati in Week 2 on CBS. The NFL says the goal of cross-flexing is to give the widest possible distribution to games.
New playoff TV format: For the first time, ESPN will be the home to a playoff game when it broadcasts a wild-card contest. NBC will broadcast one of the wild-card games, and will also broadcast a divisional round game.