The most compelling drama in the NFL this season unfolded on the field, not off it.

And any thought that the league was in jeopardy of losing its spot as America’s favorite sport has been set on the back burner, which is mostly where the domestic abuse cases, national anthem controversies and even the concerns about player safety resided for the bulk of the season.

To be sure, 2019 was far from perfect. Antonio Brown, a handful of overmatched officials and even a cameo appearance by Colin Kaepernick kept a spotlight on the warts this behemoth of a league will always carry. And certainly the Super Bowl will offer an opportunity to discuss Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill’s history with domestic violence and the NFL’s response to it.

But for the better part of the season, the stickiest topics have included the quarterback-turned-pitchman Baker Mayfield, and his overrated Cleveland Browns, the underachieving Cowboys and the possible end of the Patriots’ dynasty, to say nothing of a legion of rising young stars who were scattered throughout the league. It is led by Patrick Mahomes, the 24-year-old quarterback who brought the Chiefs to the Super Bowl to face the 49ers, the team trying to complete the NFL’s version of a fairy tale by going from 4-12 to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the span of a year.

America’s ever-expanding gambling landscape, the continued strength of fantasy football, the league’s steady growth in Britain and other countries, along with a fair share of good games placed in the correct time slots and made available on a growing number of platforms also played roles in keeping eyeballs focused on the games.

It all helps explain the league’s back-to-back 5 percent TV ratings increases – two straight years with an uptick after a two-year stretch (2016-17) during which the NFL’s status as the king of American sports took a hit, due in part to President Trump’s withering criticism and, more broadly, to the league’s problematic handling of myriad problems that came fast and furious. The league accounted for 47 of the 50 most-watched shows on TV last year.

“The NFL is in a better space leading up to the … Super Bowl, than they have been in a few years,” said Bettina Cornwell, the academic director at University of Oregon’s Warsaw Sports Marketing Center. “Less limelight can be a good thing.”

While staying out of the constant crisis-management loop, the league took advantage of trends that have been evolving for a decade or more.

The NFL’s embrace of fantasy football at the beginning of the 2000s — replete with in-stadium Wi-Fi advances, stat-heavy tickers and updates that permeate the telecasts and both league and team endorsements with fantasy websites — set a template that, in turn, positioned the league to take advantage of the more recent expansion of legalized gambling.

The most compelling drama in the NFL this season unfolded on the field, not off it.

And any thought that the league was in jeopardy of losing its spot as America’s favorite sport has been set on the back burner, which is mostly where the domestic abuse cases, national anthem controversies and even the concerns about player safety resided for the bulk of the season.

To be sure, 2019 was far from perfect. Antonio Brown, a handful of overmatched officials and even a cameo appearance by Colin Kaepernick kept a spotlight on the warts this behemoth of a league will always carry. And certainly the Super Bowl will offer an opportunity to discuss Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill’s history with domestic violence and the NFL’s response to it.

But for the better part of the season, the stickiest topics have included the quarterback-turned-pitchman Baker Mayfield, and his overrated Cleveland Browns, the underachieving Cowboys and the possible end of the Patriots’ dynasty, to say nothing of a legion of rising young stars who were scattered throughout the league. It is led by Patrick Mahomes, the 24-year-old quarterback who brought the Chiefs to the Super Bowl to face the 49ers.

It all helps explain the league’s back-to-back 5 percent TV ratings increases – two straight years with an uptick after a two-year stretch (2016-17) during which the NFL’s status as the king of American sports took a hit, due in part to President Trump’s withering criticism and, more broadly, to the league’s problematic handling of myriad problems that came fast and furious. The league accounted for 47 of the 50 most-watched shows on TV last year.

BILLS: The NFL ruled Buffalo did not violate league policy on reporting injuries in connection to defensive end Jerry Hughes revealing he played with torn wrist ligaments.

BROWNS: Andrew Berry, who left Cleveland’s front office last year to work in Philadelphia, agreed to become the Browns’ new general manager and executive vice president, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. Berry will be just the second black GM currently working in the NFL. Miami’s Chris Grier had been the league’s only minority GM.

VIKINGS: Coach Mike Zimmer promoted his son to help fill a key vacancy on his staff, appointing Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson as co-defensive coordinators.

BROWNS: Running back Kareem Hunt told a police officer he would have failed a drug test if he had been checked during a stop when he was ticketed for speeding and marijuana was found in his car.

Hunt was cited for speeding – but no other charges – last week when he was pulled over while driving on a highway in Rocky River, Ohio. In a dashboard camera video released Monday, Hunt was apologetic and emotional while discussing his situation with the officer.

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