In Week 17, there were several NFL games that, quite frankly, sucked. The Jets blew past Cincinnatti, New Orleans was pounded by Carolina, and Buffalo - that's the 6-10 Buffalo Bills, mind you - shut down Indianapolis. Why were these teams able to defeat playoff-bound teams with relative ease? The losing teams pulled most of their starters after the first or second quarter.
Pulling starters is a fairly common practice that prevents starters from being seriously injured. It makes for less entertaining final week games, and it helps teams that otherwise would be out of the playoff picture due to their schedule walk over better teams and make the playoffs (see New York Jets).
The NFL and its teams are businesses that make money their fans. Fans are the league's only source of income. Some might say that advertisers are a source of income, but there would be no advertisers if there were no fans. Why, then, should the league and its teams completely ignore the fact that people paid money for a seat to watch a late season game? These people paid money they earned to support their team and be entertaned by NFL football.
However, it is true that most fanbases are dedicated and would much rather see their starters uninjured and in the playoffs then watch an entertaining late-season game. Still, there's advertisers to think about. Businesses pay money to TV networks (who in turn pay money to the NFL) in order to advertise their products to a viewing public. What happens if the viewing public decides there's better things to do than watch a blowout? The advertisers have nobody to advertise to, and they don't make any money. In turn, the TV networks make no money, and they don't pay the NFL for broadcasting rights.
It's true that this is an extreme scenario, and there's usually at least a few legitimate games between teams fighting for homefield advantage or a wildcard spot. Still, boring games in a business that feeds off of entertained crowds aren't a good thing.
How can the NFL fix this issue? Maybe it's time to take few cues from the MLS. In the MLS, teams get three substitutions per game. Since football is a more dangerous game, maybe it's time to limit the number of players who can fill a position in the game, and only allow changes for injuries? For example, if you start one man at quarterback, he's your quarterback for the rest of the game if he remains healthy. Only allow teams to use five WRs per game, two halfbacks, two fullbacks, two tightends, and seven offensive linemen. The numbers might need adjusting, but that would be a start. The penalty for breaking that rule would be "Illegal man onfield," and it would have a penalty similar to holding. Also, require teams to start their first playoff game with the players who ended their Week 17 game.
My method may not work for the game of football, but this is something the NFL needs to address, soon. If you have better ideas, there's a comments section for them. Hater comments will not be appreciated, unless they're pretty funny.