Cautious optimism

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

The advocates of NFL expansion beyond the U.S. borders, Toronto's Paul Godfrey among them, see a glimmer of hope in tomorrow's "Futbol Americano" experiment.

Nothing wrong with that, as long as it remains a glimmer for the time being.

The NFL marketing machine is in full hum for the Mexico City meeting between the San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals. Yes, it is a historic moment marking the first regular-season game to be played outside the U.S.

But it is a game featuring a pair of doormats and a so-called "home" squad, Arizona, that can't draw flies, especially in September because of the desert heat in Phoenix.

The NFL, which will compensate the Cardinals nicely -- especially if the expected crowd of 85,000 materializes -- is enthused about bringing the game to the huge, football-crazy Hispanic population. But it is equally cautious about future foreign games and especially expansion.

"We want to reserve judgment on that until we have been through the experience once," NFL chief operating officer Roger Goodell said.

"Obviously, we know there is growing interested globally in playing a regular-season game. We want to see how this works, what the impact is on our business and our fan base from a team standpoint."

Goodell confirmed that cities such as Toronto and London are interested and would be in the mix for consideration for future one-off games.

As he is for most major NFL events, Blue Jays president Godfrey will be in Mexico City to observe. Godfrey is well-known by NFL owners and league powers and has been steadfast in his lobbying for expansion north of the border.

That doesn't mean anything is imminent, just that Godfrey is doing things the right way.

First up would be to attract a regular-season date, and even that is far from guaranteed. Should the current experience be a success, similar future ventures will require teams willing to give up a home game.

That means risking revenue and fan unrest, especially in areas that regularly sell out or close to it. Could you imagine the reaction in Buffalo if the Bills were to give up a home date to be played at the Rogers Centre?

Cardinals coach Dennis Green said one reason the team gave the project the go-ahead was because it was a chance to get the woeful team on prime time TV. The added money doesn't hurt, either.

"I didn't feel the National Football League would put us on TV without it, and I was right," Green said.

Godfrey is wise enough to realize that one game between two of the league's lesser lights isn't going to hasten the expansion process. That's not to pour cold water on the efforts -- chances are the NFL will come to Canada.

Just don't put aside the season-ticket money yet.

TURN IT OVER

Of the bundles of stats churned out each week, the one NFL coaches love to win most is battle of turnovers.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, who are off to their first 3-0 start since 1980, the dominance in this category is getting ridiculous. Of their AFC-high 80 points, 50 can be directly attributed to turnovers by their opponents.

"The defence has given us every advantage we've needed so far this season," Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said.

With 16 takeaways, the Bengals are seven ahead of the next-highest total.

"When you're on the plus side, you're limiting your exposure to bad things happening to you," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.


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