The NFL is a fixture in London. It has the infrastructure, the fans and a glorious, purpose built stadium.
Yet with expansion plans to play in Germany – and possibly France and Spain – in the future, an uncomfortable truth remains: games in London are by and large terrible.
The uneven Atlanta Falcons clung on to beat the cumbersome New York Jets last weekend – the ninth time two teams with losing records met in London.
Atlanta Falcons and New York Jets met played at Tottenham’s stadium in London last weekend
The match was the ninth time that two teams with losing records have met in London
The tenth occasion occurs on Sunday. The winless Jacksonville Jaguars play the below-median Miami Dolphins at Tottenham in the 30th regular season game in the capital.
In the 28 match-ups before this season, not one has featured two teams who reached the playoffs.
Given that the Jags are 0-5 (0-20 actually) and the Dolphins 1-4 – not to mention the 2-3 Falcons and the 1-4 Jets – let’s push the boat out and make that 30 out of 30.
Some of the fixtures are down to bad luck, with games looking good when they are announced but teams start poorly. But franchises who regularly play in London are generally, well, bad.
The Jaguars have played seven times, the St Louis/LA Rams and Dolphins four, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Raiders, then of Oakland, now of Las Vegas, three.
That’s the Jaguars with one playoff appearance to their name since 2007 and the Dolphins who have made the playoffs twice since 2002.
Yes, the Rams have made the postseason three times in the last four seasons – the first a trip to the wild card round after their last trip to London in 2017 – but their last playoff appearance before that was in 2004.
Tottenham’s stadium provides a stunning venue for NFL matches to be players in London
There is an ardent fanbase as well – people snap up tickets and splash out on merchandise
The Raiders last reached the playoffs in 2016, and the Buccaneers – who have lost every game in London – were without a playoff appearance since 2007. Until that man Tom Brady joined last season and rewrote history again.
Of the 29 games played in London, 13 have been one-score games, with the average winning margin being a whopping 14.6 points. Two teams haven’t troubled the scoreboard, four have only scored a field goal – and there’s even been a tie.
That’s not to say that London hasn’t seen some good teams. The New York Giants went on to win the Super Bowl after playing the first game at Wembley, a 13-10 victory over Miami in 2007.
There have been two teams to reach the AFC Championship (the 2012 Patriots and the 2017 Jaguars) and two more to reach the NFC Championship (the 2013 49ers and the 2017 Vikings).
Furthermore, seven teams reached the Divisional Round and five lost on Wild Card Weekend.
But given that playing in London offers just a 30 per cent chance of making the playoffs, what do those who lose think of playing there?
Few have spoken out of line as much as John Harbaugh. The Baltimore Ravens coach was livid after his side’s maiden trip overseas in 2017.
John Harbaugh, head coach of Baltimore Ravens, is not a fan of heading to London for games
Cordarrelle Patterson (left) and Mike Davis of Atlanta Falcons relish playing in London
‘To be honest with you—and maybe I’ll get into trouble for saying this—don’t plan on going over there any time soon to play again,’ Harbaugh said. ‘So, somebody else can have that job.
‘Some things we have no control over,’ Harbaugh explained. ‘We have no control where we stay, how far the bus ride is, how long it takes to get to the stadium. What impact it had are things we look at.’
No-one has been as outspoken as Harbaugh. But then, he was talking after a 44-7 defeat against Jacksonville.
On Sunday, after the win over the New York Jets, Falcons running backs Cordarrelle Patterson and Mike Davis – who have both played in London three times – were effusive.
‘This is my third time. It’s fun. I loved it. I want to come back every week,’ Patterson said.
On playing in Germany, Davis added: ‘That would be lit. That would be really lit. I really think that would be fun. I mean, players really love coming to London. I think we’re playing in Mexico City, as well. For us to get a game in Germany, that would be a great experience.’
There are plans afoot for other NFL matches to be played in Germany, potentially in 2022
Five years ago former NFL executive vice-chairman international Mark Waller was confident that a UK franchise would be in place by 2022. That notion is now one for the fantasists.
The NFL is on the move, using the UK model as a petri dish.
There is no longer the requirement to play overseas if a team wishes to host a Super Bowl. But as part of the expanded 17-game regular season, the NFL will play at least four games outside the US each season from 2022. Even the Green Bay Packers – the only one of the 32 teams not to play abroad – may be forced to play on a foreign field.
Two will take place at Spurs with Mexico – which has hosted three games already – Canada and Germany the other candidates.
This week, the NFL announced that three German cities — Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Munich — are under consideration to host a regular season game, potentially in 2022.
And with teams free to market and commercialise overseas from next year, they can also strike up deals to play outside the US. That could see the Jaguars playing at Shad Khan’s dream Wembley home once again.
But it doesn’t matter where games in Europe are played: they are a lesser, diluted product.
Too often teams start slowly and are unable to recover. Some are unable to finish. They look lethargic, jetlagged. It’s not surprising with most teams now arriving on the Friday morning before the game.
As long as fans buy tickets and merchandise, the NFL will continue its global plans of expansion. It’s just a question of whether fans will grow weary of watching.
NFL IN LONDON
Team records heading into London. Playoff teams (16/56) in bold
2007: Giants (5-2) vs. Dolphins (0-7)
2008: Chargers (3-4) vs. Saints (3-4)
2009: Patriots (4-2) vs. Buccaneers (0-6)
2010: Broncos (2-5) vs. 49ers (1-6)
2011: Bears (3-3) vs. Buccaneers (4-2)
2012: Patriots (4-3) vs. Rams (3-4)
2013: Steelers (0-3) vs. Vikings (0-3)
2013: 49ers (5-2) vs. Jaguars (0-7)
2014: Dolphins (1-2) vs. Raiders (0-3)
2014: Lions (5-2) vs. Falcons (2-5)
2014: Cowboys (6-3) vs. Jaguars (1-8)
2015: Jets (2-1) vs. Dolphins (1-2)
2015: Bills (3-3) vs. Jaguars (1-5)
2015: Lions (1-6) vs. Chiefs (2-5)
2016: Colts (1-2) vs. Jaguars (0-3)
2016: Giants (3-3) vs. Rams (3-3)
2016: Washington (4-3) vs. Bengals (3-4)
2017: Jaguars (1-1) vs. Ravens (2-0)
2017: Saints (1-2) vs. Dolphins (1-1)
2017: Cardinals (3-3) vs. Rams (4-2)
2017: Vikings (5-2) vs. Browns (0-7)
2018: Seahawks (2-3) vs. Raiders (1-4)
2018: Titans (3-3) vs. Chargers (4-2)
2018: Jaguars (3-4) vs. Eagles (3-4)
2019: Raiders (2-2) vs. Bears (3-1)
2019: Buccaneers (2-3) vs. Panthers (3-2)
2019: Bengals (0-7) vs. Rams (4-3)
2019: Texans (5-3) vs. Jaguars (4-4)
2021: Jets (1-4) vs. Falcons (2-3)
2021: Dolphins (1-4) vs. Jaguars (0-5)