As usual, the NFL has made minor rules changes this season.

For example, defenders can no longer grab the jerseys of offensive players, even for an instant. Plus, the clock now doesn't stop on sacks. There are a few others.

Yet in the Bay Area, as we all know, there is one major NFL rule that never changes:

The NFL rules. Period.

Here in Northern California, we consider ourselves an urbane, erudite, advanced and superior part of the country because ... well, because we are. Yet when it comes to professional football, the urbanity and sophistication get turned on their heads and drink cheap warm beer. We become gridiron-worshiping geeks just like the rest of America.

And so it will be again in the upcoming 2014 season. You can find proof of this on the ground and in the air.

On the ground, the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium is sold out for all eight regular-season home games despite tickets that are so costly, they are FDIC insured. In Oakland, Raiders followers are pumped up about their team's free-agent-infused team and probably already are lining up along 66th Avenue with their Commitment To Tailgate Charcoal And Ice Chests.

In the air, NFL games remain among the highest-rated television shows. The last time I collated information about the most watched events in any sport on Bay Area TV sets, 12 of the top 25 were NFL games -- including two in which neither the Raiders nor the 49ers were involved. The World Series and the NBA playoffs could not compete. In fact, a 49ers exhibition outdrew the NCAA men's basketball championship game and all the A's playoff games.


Advertisement

When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell showed up for the Levi's Stadium ribbon-cutting ceremonies in July, he was treated like a visiting head of state. The audience hung on Goodell's every word for approval as he pronounced the stadium worthy of his most magnificent league.

"It reflects the greatness of this region," the commissioner said, nodding toward the empty stadium behind him. "The only thing missing is the 49er Faithful. They'll be coming soon."

His words sounded more like a royal decree than a prediction.

Time to come clean and confess the truth. Goodell's league dominates our lives. This summer, I saw a video clip of an Oakland City Council meeting that was being addressed by a member of the public named "Dr. Death," a Raiders fan in full regalia that included thick face paint and several fake knives sticking into his silver hard hat. "Dr. Death" was making an earnest point to the council members, who were nodding in agreement as if it were perfectly normal for a knife-hatted and face-painted man to lecture them on tax revenue implications of ancillary stadium development.

But it's not just us. It's the entire nation. The NFL, by forging business partnerships with all four major broadcast networks and many Internet sites, burrows its way into our everyday lives like no other American entity. It's nearly impossible to watch any entertainment program on CBS, NBC, Fox or ABC/ESPN without seeing an NFL promotional spot. You can't call up a Web page without a Fantasy Football pop-up ad luring you into signing up and drafting Johnny Manziel.

Even us sophisticates in the Bay Area are not immune to these machinations. We consume the product ravenously. But let's face it. There's a reason. It's because the NFL usually backs up the machinations by giving us six months of compelling and confectionery sights to consume.

This season will be no exception. Be ready to devour these plot lines:

  • The 49ers are going to create early drama. There is a good chance they will break out of the gate slowly because of a roster depleted by disciplinary actions and injuries. Losses early won't be disastrous, but they will cause later games to be even more crucial.

  • The Raiders are going to be better than people expect. Their roster, for the first time in a long while, actually resembles a real NFL team with the addition of free-agent veterans James Jones and Justin Tuck. Don't expect a playoff trip. But expect more than five or six victories.

  • Colin Kaepernick, who is the most fascinating Bay Area sports personality at the moment, will be scrutinized with every move he makes as the 49ers' quarterback. It's easy to forget he's still just 26 years old. Teams have figured out what he does not like to do and the types of passes he finds more difficult -- such as those touch throws that drop in neatly over a linebacker -- but Kaepernick seems to understand he isn't perfect. He wants to be better in every phase of the game. It will be interesting to watch him work on refining his technique as everybody in the Bay Area discusses the positives and negatives of ... his tattoos.

  • Dennis Allen, the Raiders' coach, is in his third season with a hot seat that will become scalding unless he shows his team can improve week to week.

  • The Sunday to end all Sundays in Sunday history of Sunday football will, of course, occur on Dec. 7 when the 49ers play the Raiders at O.co Coliseum. Just preparing you for the hype.

  • The 49ers will continue to fight the evil Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title, with the first of two matchups set for Thanksgiving Day at Levi's Stadium. Which is fitting. Because the pilgrims, as we all have studied in the history books, staged the original Thanksgiving meal with the local Native American tribes in a luxury suite catered by celebrity chef Michael Mina.

  • On the national scene, the ongoing narratives will be provided by the usual cast of characters, including Peyton Manning in Denver and Tom Brady in New England and all the rest. But watch out for Indianapolis (and former Stanford) quarterback Andrew Luck to rise as high in the Goodell Firmament as those other two big names by December. Just a hunch.

  • The football team in Washington will continue to receive deserving grief for clinging to the nickname that no politician in Washington would ever say to the face of a 6-year-old Native American kid.

  • At least one underrated team in each conference will jump out of nowhere and get on a roll into the playoffs. The choices here, strictly on a hunch basis, are Detroit and Tennessee.

    It should all keep us occupied quite splendidly until that big day in February, when the season will end and we can take a quick breath and get back to our measured Bay Area perspective.

    And then, the next day, we will wake up to start losing even more perspective about the 2015 season -- which, of course, will end at Levi's Stadium in Super Bowl 50. I'm sure we will be extra erudite and sophisticated when that arrives.

    Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5092.