Archive for the ‘Unabated to the Quarterback’ Category

Unabated to the Quarterback: The NFC East

We’re taking a different route with our NFL preview this season. Eschewing typical predictions—those require some form of legitimate knowledge—we’re asking what each NFL team means. An NFL season is a research paper, and each team enters it with a thesis statement.

New York Giants (11-5)

Why Aren’t the Giants Any Better?

“Virtue is nothing but a just temper between propensities any one of which, if indulged to excess, becomes vice.” —Thomas Babington Macaulay

Our introductory question is perhaps a counterintuitive one, given how, you might remember, the Giants won the Super Bowl last season for the second time in five years. But New York was, by the basic measurements, the worst team to ever do so: Its 9-7 record was the worst by an eventual champion, and no team had ever advanced to the Super Bowl after accumulating a negative point differential during the regular season, let alone win one.

It is hard to reconcile, then, these two different Giants teams — the one that was so thoroughly mediocre during the regular season (they lost to the Redskins! Twice!) and the one that steamrolled the 15-1 Packers and edged the Niners and the Patriots in the playoffs. Which team are the Giants really?

The answer, and this has been true for some time, is frustratingly in the middle. The Giants are a flawed team capable of overcoming those flaws in short bursts but not, it seems, for sustained stretches.* They are the modern sports franchise that thrives when it is counted out: the embodiment of every “Nobody believed in us!” cliché. The us-against-the-world mentality seems particularly powerful in football, a sport so built on emotion and where wanting it more might actually mean something.

*The counter-argument you can make here is the first dozen games of 2008, when New York was 11-1.

On the other hand, the Giants would also be better served if the NFL were like the NBA, where mediocre regular seasons were routinely rewarded with playoff berths, so New York could coast from Weeks 1 to 17 and then do its thing each January.

People believe in the Giants again, which is precisely why they shouldn’t. Continue reading

Prior to the Snap: Super Bowl XLVI

So here we are: This is it.

I should have asked earlier; do you want an epigraph? Only one?

Knock yourself out: “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream—making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is the very essence of dreams.” —Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” —Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

“In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices.” —Ibid

“This, to use an American term, in which discovery, retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape of a regularly repulsive nutshell, was it.” —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Those last two sound familiar: There are only so many that work that well for a Super Bowl.

Are you at least excited for this one? Obviously. But two weeks is still too long. This game needs to be played the week after the championship games.

But a week’s too short! Play the game on Wednesday!

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Prior to the Snap: Championship Sunday

Let’s dispense of the formalities and get right to it:

#2 BALTIMORE AT #1 NEW ENGLAND

You ready to get Gronked? That sounds disgusting.

What percentage of Patriots fans have worked the verb “Gronk” into their regular vocabulary? I haven’t heard it yet, but I assume 100. “Gronk,” interestingly enough, is almost always modified by the adverb “totally” and takes the direct object “workout.”

Now seriously, can the Ravens stop Rob Gronkowski? I wouldn’t frame the question that way. Stopping the Patriots isn’t about stopping any one of their wide receivers/tight ends (and like, what’s the difference; we can even throw running back into that slash line) so much as it is about stopping Tom Brady. How does one stop Tom Brady? You get pressure on him, obviously.

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Prior to the Snap: Divisional Playoff Sunday

#3 HOUSTON AT #2 BALTIMORE

Does anybody care? Presumably the people in Baltimore and Houston.

And you are? Not there.

So let’s do this one quick: The Texans are the Ravens, just a little worse at everything (except running the ball, I suppose). Combine that with the home-field advantage for Baltimore, plus the fact that the Ravens have already beaten the Texans while playing a below-average game, and it all adds up to a Ravens win, right?

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Prior to the Snap: Divisional Playoff Saturday

Since Divisional Playoff weekend is far and away the best weekend of football every year, we’re splitting up my monstrously digressive predictions into two parts. Here’s my take on Saturday’s showdowns:

#3 NEW ORLEANS AT #2 SAN FRANCISCO

First off, what’s the best thing about this Divisional Playoff weekend? That the #1 seeds didn’t get screwed this year. As Pierre has mentioned before but probably won’t discuss at length this year for lack of relevant examples, the NFL’s second round has been hurt in recent years by improper seeding regulations. Now, as you know, the NFL rewards divisional winners with home games in the first round regardless of record (thus, 8-8 Denver hosting 12-4 Pittsburgh). I’m cool with this. The problem comes in the second round, when the NFL re-seeds (i.e. the top seed plays the worst remaining seed); however, the league does this based on seed instead of record, still for some reason rewarding division winners at the expense of top seeds. So most years, the #1 seed ends up playing a better team in the second round than the #2 seed. Continue reading

Prior to the Snap, SUPER BOWL XLV!

“The mind’s deepest desire, even in its most elaborate operations, parallels man’s unconscious feeling in the face of his universe: it is an insistence upon familiarity, an appetite for clarity.”

“In truth the way matters but little; the will to arrive suffices.”

–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

So, you excited for this Super Bowl? It’s almost exactly like last year to me. Look, when your team is in the Super Bowl, those two weeks are amazing; you think about the game every day. When your team is not in the Super Bowl, you almost forget football season is still going on. I’m watching Saturday night’s SportsCenter as I type this, and the Super Bowl wasn’t mentioned until 20 minutes into the show.

You can’t expect it to be ahead of BYU-UNLV, can you? Fredette is the Mountain West’s all-time leading scorer? Where’s Keith Van Horn at?

So I’m guessing you don’t think the Pro Bowl is a perfect lead-up to the big game? You know what jumped the shark three years ago? “Irrelevance of the Pro Bowl” jokes.

So I’m guessing you don’t think Super Bowl Media Day is a perfect lead-up to the big game? Ugh, Super Bowl Media Day. If you ever want to talk about the media falling in love with itself…

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Prior to the Snap: Championship Sunday

After achieving what I perceived to be metaphysical perfection with my Week 9 Unabated to the Quarterback post on the Oakland Raiders, I decided to take the rest of the season off. But now that we’re down to the NFL’s Final Four, I’m back. And back. And back.

Come on, I write 2,000 words weekly about Pretty Little Liars. The conference championships clearly merit double that. Enjoy.

#6 GREEN BAY PACKERS AT #2 CHICAGO BEARS

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Unabated to the QB, Week 9: The Autumn Wind Is a Raider

“Our task as men is to find the few principles that will calm the infinite anguish of free souls. We must mend what has been torn apart, make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust, give happiness a meaning once more to peoples poisoned by the misery of the century. Naturally, it is a superhuman task. But superhuman is the term for tasks men take a long time to accomplish, that’s all.”

—Albert Camus, “The Almond Trees”

We have to be moderate here. The Raiders are not back.

The Raiders’ odds of making the playoffs this season are not very good. They have a killer schedule the rest of the way, having to go to Pittsburgh, Kansas City, and San Diego, not to mention tough home dates with Miami and Indianapolis. I don’t see them winning more than one of those games.

But we also have to understand how low Oakland had fallen these last seven years. Not only were the Raiders never in the playoffs, they were never in playoff contention. They hadn’t won three in a row since 2002, hadn’t been over .500 in November since 2002. As bad as the Bills and Lions have been in that stretch, they’ve at least had years that looked promising. Buffalo was 4-0 two years ago; Detroit was 6-2 three seasons ago.

Not the Raiders. Here are Oakland’s records through nine games in each of the last seven seasons: 2-7, 2-7, 2-7, 2-7, 3-6, 3-6, 2-7. So when we say they haven’t been over .500 in November since 2002, we also have to point out that they haven’t been .500 in November since 2002. They haven’t been within a game of being .500 in November since 2002.

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Unabated to the QB, Week 8: The Rolling Stone


“A man’s works often retrace the story of his nostalgias or his temptations, practically never his own history especially when they claim to be autobiographical. No man has ever dared describe himself as he is.”

—Albert Camus, “The Enigma”

How exactly will we remember Randy Moss?

Figuring out the legacies of football players is difficult. Just ask the NFL Network, which recently released its compilation of the 100 greatest players in NFL history to much criticism. Football isn’t baseball, where individual stats are fairly reliable. Football isn’t basketball, where a star player can and should take over almost every game. How do you judge a quarterback such as Joe Montana who played in a revolutionary offense with the receiver who NFL Network called the greatest player in the league’s history? Steve Young didn’t do too badly himself behind Montana, but does that take away from Joe or just mean that Steve was also really, really good?

These kinds of questions are ubiquitous in thinking retroactively about football players, and the topic of legacy is particularly problematic when it comes to wide receivers. At the receiver position, there is Jerry Rice, and there is everyone else. I’m not sure if Rice is indeed the greatest player in the history of the sport, but I am sure that the gap between him and the next-best receiver is wider than the gap between the best and second-best at any other position.

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Unabated to the QB, Week 7: Ending the Fantasy

“So it was with me as I peacefully died of my cure.”

—Albert Camus

This weekend finally sealed it. At season’s end, I am officially retiring from fantasy football.

I have made this threat before. In fact, it’s been kind of a mid-aughts Favrian period from me along these lines, where I consider retirement without ever making the leap (thus the distinction between mid-aughts Favre and late-aughts Favre).

I have long deplored the aesthetics of fantasy sports. In fact, I’ve already explained this earlier in the season. To wit:

“Now, I despise the idea behind fantasy football. To me, it’s a compensatory hobby designed to manufacture allegiances when you don’t otherwise have one. I don’t care who wins this game, so I will root for Aaron Rodgers to throw a touchdown pass to Donald Driver for Green Bay, and for LeSean McCoy to have a nice performance for the Eagles. This will make me happy. Fantasy football, then, is something I patently don’t need. I love the Giants, and therefore I have a strong rooting interest in almost any game that includes an NFC team. Over time, I have developed a hierarchy of affection in the AFC, and so I have mild rooting interests in its games as well. I cannot think of a single time I have watched an NFL game completely indifferent to its outcome. Continue reading