What We Definitely, Probably, Maybe Know About the NFL So Far

Perhaps more than any other sport, the NFL season has a way of flying by in what feels like the blink of an eye. And faster than you can say Tua Tagovailoa, each NFL team’s regular season is one-eighth complete with Week 2 officially behind us. Week 3 gets underway tonight. It is a Jaguars game, so you’d be forgiven if you don’t really care unless you’re starting Gardner Minshew in your fantasy league for some reason. If so, my heart goes out to you. But with two whole weeks of football in the books, there’s no better time than now to make some hard and fast declarations as to which teams are good and which ones are terrible based on that two-game sample. This is just what we do in the world of sports punditry. What am I supposed to do? Wait until the end of October to pretend I have well-informed insight? Thanksgiving? CHRISTMAS??? No, I believe in seizing the present to spout off opinions that definitely need more time to develop before I can pretend I know what I’m talking about. So here I go acting like I know a lot based on watching a little.

These Teams Are Very Good and Should Be Feared

Have you heard about these New England Patriots? It turns out that when they play football games, they generally win them. The addition of Antonio Brown just adds an extra layer of villainy to their already detestable standing as perennial Super Bowl favorite. But rest assured, this team is very good and the majority of good citizens outside of the greater Massachusetts area already appropriately hate them for it. You don’t need me to tell you to do that. It’s as automatic as Garfield hating Mondays.

Although according to this coffee mug, he’s actually quite fond of the Pats, so…bad analogy?

The Kansas City Chiefs are quarterbacked by the most exciting player in the league in Patrick Mahomes and are off to a 2-0 start. This team is going to score a buttload of points and should probably be considered the most likely to rid us of our annual New England nightmare. However, because the universe is cold and cruel, I fully anticipate they will lose in heartbreaking fashion when the AFC Championship Game is inevitably played in Foxboro come January.

The Baltimore Ravens are one of my favorite stories so far, simply because they have a quarterback who lots of people thought should be a running back when he came out of college. Instead, Lamar Jackson has carved up defenses through the first two weeks. Granted, those defenses belonged to the Dolphins and Cardinals respectively, but 82 points in two weeks is nothing to just write off. As much talk as there was about the Browns overcoming years of being doo doo and having a decent shot of actually winning the AFC North this offseason, Baltimore appears as though they will be the tallest hurdle that Baker Mayfield and co. will have to leap over to get there.

I’m putting the Los Angeles Rams on this list for a few reasons. First, they were in the Super Bowl last year and I don’t have any reason to believe that was a fluke. But more importantly, they’re off to a 2-0 start without Jared Goff having played all that great. That description certainly applies more to his overwhelmingly blah performance in Week 1 against Carolina than his respectable showing this past week against New Orleans. But if and when he consistently performs up to his number-one-overall pick potential, the Rams will be very dangerous. Todd Gurley is a nightmare to tackle and Aaron Donald spearheads a defense that has shown itself to be one of the best in the league at creating turnovers. I expect them to be just fine in the only division in football that has three teams off to a perfect start.

These Teams Are Very Bad and Should Feel Bad About Themselves

The Miami Dolphins might be the worst football team ever assembled, and strangely that’s kind of the point. This is the NFL version of the team from Major League where the unstated goal is to find a collection of players who are bad enough to ensure that they will lose as often as possible. The results through two weeks couldn’t possibly be more laughable. These dead fish have been outscored by a combined 102-10 in their first two games. Unless Ryan Fitzpatrick’s beard becomes sentient and learns how to fend off a pass rush, the likelihood of this team winning a game this year appears to be somewhere between not great and no chance in hell.

That beard tho…
đź“·: Washington Post

UPDATE: Fitzpatrick and his beard have reportedly been relegated to back up in favor of a clean-shaven Josh Rosen

My New York football Giants have been run incompetently for several years now, and their sixth 0-2 start in the last seven seasons is hardly a surprise. It’s nothing short of depressing to see what has become of the twilight of Eli Manning’s career. That potentially Hall of Fame career now appears to have officially struck midnight with Eli being benched in favor of sixth-overall pick Daniel Jones, who actually looks like what would happen if the Lego company tried to make an Eli Manning.

Collect the whole set!
đź“·: USA Today

I understand that the Giants’ problems extend far beyond the quarterback position and in fact don’t even start there, but the glory days of this franchise are so far back in the rear view mirror, they have completely faded from sight. Bartender, I need a new drink. I seem to have spilled my tears into this one and it’s gotten a little salty.

Alas, the Giants are not the only dumpster fire of a football team that calls Metlife Stadium home. The Jets are off to another one of their “same old Jets” starts to the year. They are also 0-2, and have managed to lose one quarterback to mononucleosis and another to a gross-looking ankle injury. Something called a Luke Falk is now their starter for likely at least the next two games and perhaps longer. The good news is those games will be against a couple of pushovers in the Patriots and Eagles. Oh wait, those teams are actually pretty goddamn good. Well at least the schedule should get favorable once Sam Darnold presumably returns in Week 5, right? Checks schedule, sees Cowboys Week 5 and Patriots (again) in Week 6. Well, Gang Green nation. There’s always next year.

Bless Tim Burke for this Sam Darnold graphic generator so I can bring you this important PSA

The Pittsburgh Steelers were not supposed to be a part of the bad list when the year began. But now that they are 0-2 and Ben Roethlisberger has been ruled out for the season, it’s hard to imagine things getting much better for them. The Donte Moncrief signing wasn’t necessarily supposed to be akin to the second coming of Jerry Rice, but he has been about as bad as could be so far. After catching 3 of his 10 targets for a whopping 7 yards in his Pittsburgh debut, he was targeted just once in Week 2, and that was a pass that bounced off of his hands and was promptly intercepted. At least they wouldn’t do anything foolish like trade a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, except that’s exactly what they did on Monday. The question that remains is can Mason Rudolph turn this team’s fortunes around? Granted, he looked pretty good in almost leading them to a comeback against Seattle. But as I’ve already made clear, it’s my job to make grand declarations based on basically nothing, so my answer is no and he probably shouldn’t even try. But while we’re on the subject of having to fill in for injured quarterbacks…

Look At All These Injured Quarterbacks!

Roethlisberger is done for the year. So is Nick Foles. Drew Brees is out six weeks. Deshaun Watson and Carson Wentz have no business still being alive after getting squashed by large football men this past week. I’ve already talked about Sam Darnold coming down with smoochies disease in addition to his backup Trevor Siemian having his ankle reduced to shrapnel.

I’m really sorry, Sam. In all sincerity I wish you a speedy recovery.

All this is before I even mention Cam Newton, who I can’t be convinced isn’t dealing with some kind of injury, whether it’s related to his surgically repaired shoulder or not. It’s only a matter of time before NFL quarterback is being featured on that World’s Most Dangerous Jobs show on History Channel or TLC or whatever the fuck network it’s on. One thing’s for sure. No matter how many QBs go down, NFL teams will surely try to resurrect Bart Starr before they give Colin Kaepernick a call. That’s because as has been firmly established by now, the only unforgivable sin in the NFL is kneeling for the national anthem. No really, it’s a wonderful sports league. Oh boy, it seems my eyes have rolled so far back in my head I can’t see anymore. Oh well.

So there you have it. Two weeks in the books and I think I know everything. Despite the fact I’ve covered less than half of the league in this piece, I think we all know what’s going to go down the rest of the way by now. Sure, there are a bunch of teams that are off to good starts that will probably come crashing down to earth in the weeks to come (looking at you, Buffalo), as well as some teams that have some kinks to work out before they make a push for a playoff spot (looking at you, should-be-winless Atlanta). Now let’s all look forward to Week 3, after which much of what I said here can and should be completely disregarded. LET’S PLAY SOME MORE FOOTBAW!

For NFLers Who Have Assaulted Women, There’s Still Room at the Inn

The Cleveland Browns are in the news today! Usually this would be my cue to pile on to the three million jokes that have already been made about how shitty that franchise has been since forever, or possibly even take a dump on the city they play in…

…Actually, I am going to do the latter because that hastily made Cleveland tourism video is still funny almost ten years later.

But today’s news deserves a bit more gravitas then I’m used to affording the Browns because it underlines yet another example of the NFL being Just The Worst®™.

The news is that the Browns have signed former Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt to a one-year contract. You may remember him from his starring role in that hotel video where he knocked a woman to the ground and literally kicked her while she was down.

The kind of behavior that gets a stern “tsk-tsk” and a “please don’t do this again” from the NFL (Still image courtesy of TMZ Sports)

John Dorsey, the man who drafted Hunt as the general manager in Kansas City, is now the GM of the Browns. And let’s make no mistake about it. Dorsey is willing to give Hunt a second chance because Hunt is very good at football. As a rookie in 2017, Hunt led the NFL in rushing yards and was selected to the Pro Bowl. He was having another stellar year – 14 touchdowns in 11 games – before being released by the Chiefs in November upon publication of the damning video.

Hunt is still indefinitely suspended by the league, and the subject of an open NFL investigation. Until that reaches its conclusion and a final punishment is decided, he will be on the commissioner’s exempt list and ineligible to suit up.

Now, there’s no doubt that Hunt can be a valuable on-field asset to the Browns, who despite decades of ridicule, could actually be (*gulp*) a playoff team next season. In my mind though, that couldn’t be further from the point.

This is a league where pot smokers and socially conscious black men are considered some kind of scourge that must be disciplined into oblivion (see Gordon, Josh or Kaepernick, Colin). So how is it that men who have committed violent acts – particularly against women – are so frequently given lighter punishments and deemed worthy of the oh-so-coveted Second Chance?

*Though the Hunt incident does not fall under the “domestic” violence label, it is clearly adjacent to the issue. Nearly five years have passed since the infamous Ray Rice saga that was supposed to set the NFL on a path of course correction for how it handles issues of domestic violence. Yes, the league has put more teeth into its disciplinary policy of how it handles these kinds of incidents since then. However, to draw a line in the sand against civil protest and blazing the sticky-icky while NFL owners have continued to employ the likes of (to name a few) Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, LeSean McCoy, Joe Mixon, and now Kareem Hunt…it frankly just feels gross.

There are many factors that play into this, not the least of which is that NFL teams will reach as deep as they can for players that will help win them football games. But one of the most glaring problems to me is that not nearly enough women are in the room to help with the day-to-day operations of the league.

Only about a third of the NFL’s employees are female, despite nearly half of their fan base consisting of women. None of those employees are in coaching or a general manager’s office. So why should we be surprised that issues that affect women are not being dealt with properly or are just being outright ignored?

Want the proof? Read this article written in The Washington Post last year by Deborah Epstein. Epstein is a professor of law and co-director at the Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Her op-ed piece leads with a searing headline: “I’m done helping the NFL Players Association pay lip service to domestic violence prevention.” It serves to give you the clearest picture of just how tone-deaf the NFL is when it comes to this problem.

After being hired to serve on the NFLPA’s commission on domestic violence, Epstein became so frustrated with their refusal to enact any substantial change that she felt she had no choice but to resign from her post.

I spent the first year enthusiastically attending meetings and helping the commission make connections with the advocacy community. I worked with Lisa Goodman, a Boston College research psychologist with experience working with survivors of intimate-partner violence, to conduct a national study of players’ wives and their suggestions for dealing with family violence in this particular, high-profile community. At the NFLPA’s insistence, we signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents us from publicly discussing our research findings. But we made numerous systematic recommendations of concrete steps that would go a long way toward dramatically lowering the risk of domestic violence in professional football.

That study was completed two years ago, in June 2016. Since then, despite my numerous requests, the commission has met only three times. As of our last meeting, the NFLPA had not implemented any of the reforms proposed in our study.

She would eventually author a letter of resignation, outlining her reasoning for no longer wanting to be a part of a commission that was proving itself to be a sham. The response was a loud-and-clear middle finger…

…the NFLPA’s response to my letter of resignation? A one-line email thanking me for my service but failing to acknowledge or respond to any of the substantive points set forth. The email was short, but its message couldn’t have been clearer: The NFL Players Association is no longer interested in even making a public show of concern about violence against women

The NFL isn’t exactly known as a beacon of consistency. But at least we know we can count on them for one thing. Whenever they are faced with the prospect of having to do right by women who have been assaulted by one of their players, they will find a way to fuck it up.

My proposed solution? If these guys can’t figure this out without stepping all over their own dicks, maybe have a few less dicks in the room and add a few more women.

*This post originally labeled Kareem Hunt’s assault as a case of domestic violence. Though Hunt did assault a woman, it was not in a domestic setting. The post has been edited to correct the error.

If You Bet Against the Patriots, You Are a Fool…Like Me

We’re 24 hours removed from what seems to be unanimously regarded as the dullest Super Bowl in history. Often when we use hyperbole like that to describe sporting events, you can blame recency bias for letting our historical perspective be jaded. But let’s face it, from an entertainment standpoint, that game absolutely blew.

Yes, you can point to the 16 combined points scored by the two teams – the lowest total in Super Bowl history. Sure, you can chalk it up to the fact that just one year after we saw a Super Bowl that only featured one drive that ended with a punt, we were “treated” to a combined 14 (!) in this year’s Big Game. Hell, you can even throw in the mostly lifeless halftime show that will be best remembered for featuring Adam Levine’s nips.

But perhaps the dullest ingredient of the shit goulash that was this football game was the fact that the dullest franchise in the sport won yet another ring – because of course they did.

“I love you, Dad!”
“For the last time, I’m not your dad, Tom”
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s not even the Patriots’ fault at this point. They aren’t dull because they don’t play good football. Their ridiculous six championships over the course of the Brady-Belichick era are enough to prove that’s obviously not the case. They’re dull because winning is just their default setting. And even though we’ve been beaten over the head with that fact over the course of the last two decades, somehow a lot of us allowed ourselves to forget it this season.

If you’re like me, you saw an 11-5 Patriots team that somehow didn’t feel like they were THAT good. They stumbled out of the gate, losing two of their first three games in uncharacteristic fashion. I mean, they gave up a combined 57 points to the Jaguars and Lions for fuck’s sake. After rebounding and stringing some wins together, we watched them get smoked by the Titans in Week 10. Back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Steelers late in the year didn’t exactly inspire a ton of confidence either. And yet, they cakewalked to another AFC East title and found themselves in the playoffs again.

But whoop-dee-doo, right? That division sucks, we said. The Chargers are good enough to take them out in Foxboro, we rationalized. No way they’ll beat MVP Patrick Mahomes and the 12-4 Chiefs in KC, we proclaimed. Except here’s the thing. We forgot that regardless of how they get there, once the Patriots play in big games that they have to win…they win. In fact, the only times they haven’t are in the games that we all took for granted that they would. But this year, we introduced at least an inch of doubt. Maybe these unrelenting bastards had finally reached the end of the line. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me six times, what kind of an unbelievable dumbass am I?

So shame on me and all of you like me who thought that this young and extremely talented Rams team would be the exception to the rule. It’s not that we didn’t have our reasons. But damn it, we should have known better.