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Welcome to “Week Under Review,” where we discuss compelling storylines from the past week, introduce new ideas, throw in an important listicle and try not to put you to sleep on a lazy Sunday. Let’s start in the bowels of the league office, where some mathematicians were geeking out this week for your entertainment…
When NFL p.r. guru Brian McCarthy tweets out his annual “regular season schedule is done, stayed tuned for release date” message, he is doing his job yet I can’t help but wonder if even he is privately mocking the fact that the schedule release has evolved into an actual event. With eight NFL Network reporters at various team sites, talking about matchups and locations we’ve known since January. The only relevant “news” is discovering what week these already-known games are being played. Unless you’re a travel director for an NFL team, yawn.
The real fun comes in the ridiculousness of schedule release analysis. To paraphrase a New York sports talk radio host I heard while driving home Thursday night: “Holy hell, I just don’t see how the Jets win any games in Weeks 4–6. It’s too tough to beat Roethlisberger on the road, the Cardinals defense is scary good, and the Ravens … well, they sucked last year but that was an anomaly—they’ll definitely be an elite team this year.”
So it goes. We think we have a good grasp on who’s a playoff contender and who aside from the Browns will be Browns-like. We think we know the must-see games, the dates to circle on the calendar in permanent ink. But then the unpredictable, glorious trainwreck known as the NFL does its thing and suddenly the Panthers are in the Super Bowl, while the Ravens are inching to the finish line at 5–11. Most articles at this time last year predicting 2015’s most compelling games heavily featured the Dallas Cowboys, who returned the accolades by finishing 4–12 after Tony Romo missed most of the year with a broken clavicle that was reinjured in Week 12.
So instead of a straightforward look at the games that fascinate me, here’s a look at some of the games that are fascinating others … reimagined.
Week 1: Carolina at Denver
Trevor Siemian takes center stage for the Broncos after starting quarterback Mark Sanchez is knocked out in the first quarter by an amped up Luke Kuechly out for revenge. On the same play, Thomas Davis breaks his arm again but keeps playing because as it is later discovered his DNA does include the pain gene. 49–3 Panthers.
Siemian, who put up a mortifying 17.6 passer rating in the loss, calls former teammate Peyton Manning in search of advice. Unfortunately for Siemian, Manning says he’s never heard of him and goes back to studying film for no reason. In Denver, the “trust in Elway” mantra begins to soften in a hurry.
Week 5: New England at Cleveland
Tom Brady caves in and starts eating mushrooms during his Deflategate suspension, thus his much-anticipated return is less fluid than expected. The Patriots fall to 1–4, Brady is quick to blame the officiating, while Bill Belichick mumbles just four words in his post-game presser: “We’re on to Cincinnati.” He’s right—the Patriots play Cincinnati Week 6.
Week 9: Colts at Packers
The Packers are once again decimated by injuries at wide receiver, with Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jared Cook tearing a collective six ligaments in total. However, they persevere to a 5–3 record buoyed by Aaron Rodgers’ pregnant fiancé Olivia Munn (they’re expecting) as well as brother Jordan and his fiancé JoJo Fletcher—creating the most dramatic power brother-couple duo ever! Meanwhile, the Colts are the darlings of the league, with QB Andrew Luck returning from Gettysbur—er, injury rehab, to lead the Colts to an unbeaten record. But on this night, the Packers snap the Colts’ streak, as rookie wide receiver D’Haquille Williams, a seventh-round steal, emerges to catch three touchdowns on 250 yards, and cements himself a Rodgers’ new No. 1 receiver. That is, until he contracts a nasty virus the next week and is out for the season.
Week 13: Panthers at Seahawks
Pete Carroll gets so amped up rocking out with his pre-game music, a Styx/Rush/Led Zeppelin rock block—that he bursts an ear drum, rendering him deaf for the first half. Not to worry, though, as QB Russell Wilson summons the power of the heavenly father, and Ciara, to heal Carroll by halftime. Seahawks 38–10.
None of these exact scenarios are likely to happen but, like all NFL seasons, this one will be filled with chaos, injuries, suspensions, and general weirdness that alters the course of what anyone believes will happen today. The unpredictability of the NFL is its beauty.
Wrong war, Bruce
When Bruce Arians, speaking to a collection of high school football coaches last week, said that football is “being attacked” by moms who are afraid of the game, I didn’t let my feminist tendencies instantly denounce Arians as a vigilant Neanderthal. Instead, I simply turned to my husband and asked, “You still don’t want our sons playing football, right?” His response: “Hell, no.”
The NFL has poured copious resources into youth football, which makes sense given that data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association shows that since 2009 youth participation in touch football has dipped more than any sport except wrestling. The league has specifically targeted moms, putting on Mom’s Clinics in conjunction with USA Football, which teaches the importance of safe tackling and generally connects like-minded women. To my knowledge, there is nothing comparable for dads.
So when Arians singled out moms in a speech on football’s future it sounded more like he was reciting one of the NFL’s prevailing talking points rather than revealing his true colors. Remember, this is the same Arians who hired the first-ever female coach, Jen Welter, and is overwhelmingly charismatic, which is more than you can say about 80% of NFL head coaches out there.
The NFL’s real problem in this realm is that despite the league’s focus, it’s not clearly just moms who are driving down the interest in youth football. While it’s easy, albeit stupid, to make generalizations asserting that women are softies, more risk adverse to any kind of physicality, that other gender hasn’t just been eating buffalo wings, chugging cheap beer and changing tires the past five years. Men, too, have been affected by an unsettling number of deaths or life-altering injuries at the youth level, not to mention horrifying stories of CTE-driven deaths in too many former NFL players. The science is still in progress, but everyone’s spooked.
An even bigger issue for the NFL lies in the words of Kurt Warner, Troy Aikman, Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre—all have publicly expressed doubts about letting their own children play football. Add in the rapidly growing number of players who are retiring early to protect their brains and it’s rather obvious the true demographic for whom the NFL needs to redirect its propaganda. It’s called … all people.
Party of Five: Don’t be a faker
In advance of Tuesday’s New York primary, the democratic candidates —former New York senator Hillary Clinton and Brooklyn-born Bernie Sanders—have in particular been playing up their New York-ness. The Bern and the Hill only have a couple more days to nail down loyalties but here are five useful tips for visitors and permanent residents alike on how not to be exposed as a fake New Yorker.
- Don’t openly like anything that exists between 34th and 59th streets.
- Don’t proudly declare that you’ve already purchased tickets to the Cats revival coming to Broadway, or that you’ve thought about it, or even know about it. (Oh no!)
- Don’t eat pizza in layers and/or with a fork and knife.
- Don’t make eye contact with subway dancers or anyone dressed as Elmo, Princess Elsa or a naked cowboy.
- Don’t think the deli counter is a place to peruse the menu and decide what to order.
Ray Rice reaction
Thank you for the mostly positive reaction to the Ray Rice profile in last week’s column. I knew it was risky to give him a forum and openly advocate on his behalf, but I’m glad I did. Judging by the comments, tweets and emails, most of you took the time to give thought to his words, believe him to be sincere and even think he might be deserving of a second chance. Plus, I believe only two lovely people suggested that I go put on an apron. Overall, score one for humanity.