Today it gives me great pleasure to welcome back special guest writer Zeus, with his unique perspective on the state of the NFL, sports media, and the New England Patriots.
You can probably blame this on my wife‚Äôs Holiday Party which occasioned a rare instance of weeknight overindulgence on my part and which has apparently let loose a torrent (well, maybe a trickle) of pent up pigskin-related ideas, some of which may even approach semi-coherence. It‚Äôs been a while since I‚Äôve subjected you to my demented ruminations so apologies are most definitely in order. I‚Äôll leave it to the reader to ascertain for themselves whether the apology is for not writing sooner or for starting up again. Not everyone has to agree on this. Either way, I do apologize.
1. Free for All ‚Äď Somewhere, in a dusty corner of football heaven, Pete Rozelle surveys the landscape of the 2013 National Football League season and very much likes what he sees. Rozelle, the architect of revenue sharing, dreamed of competitive balance that would allow all teams to remain in contention throughout the duration of each and every season. So here we sit after 15 weeks with 224 of 256 regular season games in the record books and not much has been decided. Exactly one of the eight divisions has a winner ‚Äď curiously that would be the 9 win Indianapolis Colts (teams with 10, 11 and even 12 wins continue to languish in some degree of uncertainty). In the AFC, three of six playoff qualifiers have been determined while only one NFC team has clinched a playoff berth. The next two weeks should be highly entertaining for football junkies. The stakes are high and the tournament is wide open.
2. Sixty Minutes ‚Äď Here in New England, we‚Äôve narrowed the possible outcomes as follows ‚Äďthe Patriots cannot be the 5th seed. They can be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th or out of the tournament entirely. So we pretty much know what to expect from here. This year‚Äôs edition of the Patriots plays to the whistle, the full sixty minutes (and beyond). This has been the most consistently competitive and entertaining team in the league. The wild finishes have frayed synapses, fried neurons, exploded brains cells and generally wreaked havoc on my entire central nervous system. But this is what I do with my spare time. To relax. If the improbable happens every week, is it still improbable?
3. Bottom Line ‚Äď The local meme is that last week‚Äôs razor thin loss to the Dolphins exposed heretofore unknown weaknesses that legitimately call the team‚Äôs prospects for the reminder of the season into question. The reality is that the team played far better football against the Dolphins than they did the prior week against the Browns. That we all felt good after the miracle escape against the Cleveland Browns because the Patriots won does nothing to obscure the fact that the team played lifeless, uninspired, terrible football for 58 minutes against a clearly inferior opponent. I know it‚Äôs a bottom line business and all that matters is whether you win or lose. Well, maybe I‚Äôm crazy (no need to comment here), but I actually felt a bit better about the Miami game where NE lost because of mistakes that can be eliminated.
The Baltimore Ravens lead the league in yards gained on pass interference calls, and also have the second fewest PI calls against
(USA TODAY Images)
4. Didn‚Äôt He Retire? ‚Äď It was a bit of a lengthy car ride out to my wife‚Äôs office for the aforementioned party last night. True confession: I did pass the time listening to Felger & The Pipsqueak (at least for as long as I could stand it). I was reminded once again how The Sporting Press can prattle on ad nauseam about how great a player is, leaving you with a feeling of absolute revulsion toward the subject, who yesterday happened to be The Great Ray Lewis.
(Ed. Note ‚Äď This was such a slobberfest that I thought I had mistakenly turned on one of those annoyingly saccharine ESPN human interest stories. You know ‚Äď the ones with the soft piano music, usually about how a young boy‚Äôs trauma at the death of his cat who was run over by a cement mixer inspires him the become a 6‚Äô6‚ÄĚ 275 pound Fire-Breathing Drug-Crazed Steroid Monster who goes on to terrorize others of his ilk until his brain turns to oatmeal.) Had I been able to watch this on television, I could well imagine Mazz‚Äôs face turning pale as thoughts of Ray‚Äôs Squirrel Dance caused the blood to run from his pint-sized cranium directly to his (presumably even more pint-sized) nether regions. No problem Tony ‚Äď it‚Äôs a free country so whatever makes your socks roll up and down is okay by me.
The takeaway is that it‚Äôs quite possible for someone to be a great player and, at the same time, be stupendously overrated. (For more on this, see Manning, Peyton.) The one constant throughout the 17 year career of Ray Lewis is that Ray Lewis has consistently done everything he can to call attention to Ray Lewis. He is a world class Glory Hog who is the NFL career leader in Jump on the Pile Late/Pad the Stats Tackles. From a public health standpoint, Ray‚Äôs breathless, mystical diatribes are hard evidence of significant and permanent brain damage, likely the result of repeated head trauma and possible long term abuse of dangerous hallucinogenic substances probably mixed with Quaaludes. Now, such damage is not without it merits as far as Ray is concerned because the resulting cognitive impairment has allowed him truthfully maintain that he in fact does not have any idea where the bloody white tuxedo is. Which means he gets to live happily ever after.
5. Sea Monsters ‚Äď If you watch the huddle closely enough, you can see Seattle Seahawk players injecting huge syringes filled with science fiction PEDs, narcotic painkillers and powerful amphetamines directly into each other‚Äôs eyeballs between plays! (This is done to avoid marring tattoos.) The Seahawks are the odds on favorite to win the Super Bowl unless and until the entire team of Fire-Breathing Drug-Crazed Steroid Monsters is subjected to repeated highly intrusive drug testing, the results of which would surely leave the Seahawk roster so depleted that they would have trouble competing with Tacoma High School. After all, Pete didn‚Äôt run a clean program at USC so why should he start now?
6. Bowling Banquet ‚Äď Meanwhile, the NCAA is headed for its annual prolonged celebration of insipid and meaningless games between teams who never even heard of each other before. This of course is the last year before the institution of the semi-playoff for the BCS Division. While the NCAA in its infinite wisdom can‚Äôt see its way clear to having the major college teams conduct a single elimination 8 or 16 game championship tournament, the next level down (strangely enough called Division I) has a 24 team tournament! In this format, a team seeded in the bottom 16 would have to win 5 (!) games to secure the national championship. We can only hope and pray that the thinking elsewhere in institutions of higher learning is nowhere near this muddled. (Ed. Note ‚Äď Local fans may wish to root for the UNH Wildcats who play top seeded North Dakota St. tonight at the – I kid you not – Fargo Dome on ESPN2.)
7. Sunday‚Äôs Patriots-Ravens game is a head on collision between two high wire acts who have lived life on the edge this season. Four weeks ago, the Ravens were dead in the water at 4-6. Four straight wins against bad football teams include consecutive miracle finishes against the Vikings (the last two minutes being a graphic illustration of what football would look like if it were played on skates) and the talented but frighteningly dimwitted Lions, the sentimental favorite of cretins around the world. Calling the Ravens The Team No One Wants to Face in the Playoffs is the usual media hyperbole. Are they really hot or just lucky? I guess we‚Äôll find out soon enough.
Better hope the game doesn‚Äôt come down to a close call. First, Joe Flacco leads the NFL in yards gained on pass interference penalties. Much of the Ravens offense consists of Joe heaving the ball downfield in hopes of getting absurd penalty calls, a strategy that has worked surprisingly well. Second, the disturbing trend is that the big call at the end of the game goes to the home team, as Patriot games against the jets, Panthers, Browns and Dolphins attest.
A sincere thanks once again to Zeus for allowing me to share his thoughts with you here in this forum.
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