You wouldn’t call this a “fun” 2017 NFL season. A quick recap …
• The preseason was dominated by Ezekiel Elliott’s never-ending domestic violence case, another dispiriting franchise relocation, a possible Kaepernick blackballing, and another round of sobering concussion research. We were one gambling scandal away from hitting the Depressing Quinfecta.
• The first two weeks featured some of the worst modern football ever played—like watching two slammered college kids fumbling through a 4 a.m. Madden game.
• Debate over protests during the national anthem swallowed up the next few weeks, with President Trump declaring war on the NFL and inadvertently igniting football’s biggest controversy in years. Oh wait, there was nothing inadvertent about it! He totally meant to do that! In the process, many of the 32 NFL owners revealed themselves to be opportunistic, cowardly hypocrites. Or was it opportunistic, hypocritical cowards? Or hypocritical, cowardly opportunists? Maybe it doesn’t matter. (Was it revealed today that one of those owners complained in a recent meeting that “We can’t have the inmates running the prison”? Of course it was!)
• As that protest controversy careened down Outrage Mountain, we somehow lost our most fun quarterback (Aaron Rodgers), receiver (Odell Beckham Jr.) and pass rusher (J.J. Watt) for all or most of the season.
• We endured so many lousy quarterbacks that (a) Grantland’s Bad QB League idea is basically just real fantasy football now, (b) Kevin Clark wrote an excellent Ringer piece called “How to Win Without a Quarterback” (and wasn’t kidding) and (c) Rodgers with 13 screws in his collarbone still might be one of the NFL’s 20 best QBs. (Check out 2017’s QBR leaders: Would you rather have a hobbled Rodgers or a healthy Josh McCown?)
• At least we had gambling, right? Nope. Underdogs crushed everyone for six weeks, making teasers and parlays about as safe as watching The Deuce with your kids. Not only are we missing great NFL teams, we can barely find any good teams. We’ve had four MVP favorites since Week 3: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, and Carson Wentz. The Patriots still have the best Super Bowl odds (+350) even though they’re starting a 40-year-old QB, missing multiple A-listers and trotting out their worst front seven in the history of the Belichick-Brady era. Oh, and the Rams rank second in DVOA. I repeat: THE RAMS. We’re supposed to be anticipating the results of NFL games and wagering on them???
• It’s been such a bummer of a season that America’s unhappiest and most untrusting fan base, Philadelphia, is talking itself into the following two possibilities …
1. Carson Wentz winning the MVP
2. The Eagles winning a Super Bowl
When Philly football fans have HOPE, you know somebody shook the sports snow globe. But that’s been one of the 2017 season’s only fun subplots, along with the rejuvenated Rams, Tony Romo’s announcing and Houston finally—finally!!!—finding a franchise QB. How can we do better? Let’s find 10 more semirealistic ways we could make the 2017 season more fun that don’t include the words “fire Roger Goodell.”
Fun Idea No. 1: Philip Rivers Needs to Declare War on the City of Los Angeles
For decades, professional wrestlers generated heat by turning babyface or heel—it always had to be one or the other. Last decade, John Cena created a third prototype: the polarizing babyface, the good guy who drew an equal number of cheers and boos. This decade, Roman Reigns created a fourth prototype: the anti-babyface, who acts like a good guy only everyone boos him because his stardom is being crammed down their throats. (And it is. You suck, Roman Reigns! Booooooooooo!)
Well, here’s poor Phil Rivers unwittingly creating a fifth prototype: the babyface who can’t find any fans whatsoever.
After his beloved Chargers ditched San Diego for a 27,000-seat soccer stadium in Not Even L.A., they immediately became a microwavable home game for eight other NFL fan bases. It’s like a pop-up football rave. You’re a Broncos fan? Go to Carson on Sunday, say the password, go in there, and root for the Broncos with everyone else! Even crueler, the Chargers might be the best three-win team when you consider (a) they blew two wins because of their kicking game, and (b) THEY’RE PLAYING 16 ROAD GAMES.
You know what this Chargers season needs? Some old-school heat. Back in 1998, when the Rock sold out to the McMahon family, he climbed into the ring and absolutely owned it. He called WWE fans “unintelligent pieces of trailer park trash” and hissed that “the Rock says he would much rather kiss Mr. McMahon’s ass than ever, and the Rock means ever, kiss yours, if you smelllllllllll what the Rock is cookin’!”
What happened? BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!
Maybe Rivers can’t grab a microphone and berate his “home” crowd like the Rock did. (After all, there’d be barely any L.A. fans in that crowd.) But after the next terrible “home” game, what if OctoDad gives a cantankerous interview and calls L.A. fans a bunch of fair-weather, sun-drenched, silicone-infused phonies who don’t deserve one NFL team, much less two?
The Rams already own whatever NFL territory there is to own in Los Angeles, right? That leaves the Chargers playing the role of the NFL’s Clippers—the loser little brother shoved into the shadows, the cheaper alternative, the cost-effective way to catch visiting teams. In the NBA, that’s fine. You get to see LeBron, Westbrook, Giannis, and everyone else. In the NFL? If you don’t care about the home team, you’d never abandon seven straight hours of Sunday Ticket unless you loved the visiting team. That’s why the Chargers are screwed. They have no chance at ever building any heat. Not here.
In the WWE, the Chargers would get waived. In the NFL, they’ll limp along as a pop-up football rave so Dumbass Dean Spanos can rake in luxury suite money from Sugar Daddy Kroenke. You think he cares? No way. Nobody cares. That’s why OctoDad should declare war on a Los Angeles fan base that never wanted him anyway. He can even borrow the Rock’s “unintelligent pieces of trailer park trash” line. And if it leads to the Chargers limping back to San Diego one day, even better.
Fun Idea No. 2: We Need a Real Name for the Bortles-Trubisky Non-offense Offense
We have the West Coast offense, the Wildcat, the run-option, the no-huddle, the five-wide, the I formation and about 20 other offenses we could rattle off thanks to decades of Madden reps. So why haven’t we named whatever the hell Jacksonville and Chicago are doing?
The Bears upset Carolina by completing FOUR passes. The Jaguars beat Pittsburgh in Week 5 because Ben Roethlisberger threw for more passing yards to Jacksonville players (103) than Blake Bortles did (95). What do we call … that? Should we spin it positively and call it 2017 Smashmouth Football? Should we name it after the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who won a Super Bowl with Trent Dilfer playing this way, and call it “The Dilfer”? Or do we spin it derisively and call it something like The Headless Horsemen, The Bore Corners or The Run-and-Shoot-Yourself?
I vote for The Dilfer. Check out Dilfer’s last seven regular-season starts in 2000 versus Bortles’s first seven starts this season.
Dilfer: 1,292 yards, 12-9 TD/INT, 115 for 188 (61%), 6.9 Y/A, 83.0 rating
Bortles: 1,398 yards, 9-5 TD/INT, 115 for 196 (59%), 7.1 Y/A, 85.4 rating
The Dilfer!!!!! Twelve years from now, Bortles will be wearing his 2017 Super Bowl ring, working for ESPN and writing off 52-year-old Tom Brady and 78-year-old Bill Belichick by saying this …
Fun Idea No. 3: We Need the Cardinals to Sign Colin Kaepernick
This definitely won’t happen, with the man being blackballed and all. But after the Cardinals lost Carson Palmer indefinitely, Bruce Arians named Drew Stanton as his new starter and explained, “Drew has played and won a lot of games for us.”
Technically, this is true—Arizona went 6-3 in Stanton starts since 2014. Also true: He’s 33 years old with 14 career touchdowns and 20 career picks … in his past five Cardinals starts, they scored 83 points total … and finally, he’s Drew Stanton.
Who’s more likely to get you to flip over to a crappy Cardinals game on Sunday Ticket … Stanton or Kaepernick?
Who’s selling more jerseys … Stanton or Kaepernick?
Who’s more likely to get Will Cain punched during the most dramatic episode of First Take ever … Stanton or Kaepernick?
What’s more fun … two months of Stanton, or two months of Kaepernick? COME. ON.
Fun Idea No. 4: The Giants Need to Trade Eli Manning to Jacksonville
This idea has been dragged through the bowels of the internet more often than Alexandra Daddario’s True Detective love scene. Nobody cares that Eli has a no-trade clause and would rather set himself on fire than move from New York to Jacksonville. Nobody cares that Giants fans have Stockholm syndrome with Eli—he’s 34-45 in the regular season since the halfway mark of the 2012 season, hasn’t won a playoff game since Super Bowl XLVI and turns 37 next season. But since Eli won them two rings, Giants fans are riding with Eli until the bitter end.
For example, in the Ringer offices this week, I argued the merits of a “trade Eli/tank the season/draft a 2018 QB” strategy with increasingly agitated BSMG president Eric Weinberger (a die-hard Giants fan). Finally, he snapped: “No! No! We aren’t trading Eli! Do you realize there are TEN PEOPLE who can play that position? TEN! HE’S ONE OF THE TEN!”
In the right situation … sure. But why is New York the right situation anymore? As Sam from D.C. points out, “Eli on Jacksonville would create Eli v. Brady III in the AFC playoffs. This is Brady’s kryptonite, isn’t it? A good defense with a great pass rush and a just good enough Eli?”
Look, I don’t have any more possible nightmares as a Patriots fan. We won five Lombardis, and the last two featured the two most ludicrous endings in Super Bowl history. We also shoved the last Lombardi Trophy right down Goodell’s throat. It’s a wrap. Anything else is gravy.
Except for one thing … Eli. He’s the last demon out there. Brady is the best QB ever? Eli beat him twice. The Pats won five Super Bowls? Couldn’t beat the Giants. The Pats owned the 21st century? They didn’t own New York. We’ll never see another Pats-Giants Super Bowl during Brady’s career. But he could still get revenge on Eli … you know, if Eli ever had the balls to actually accept the Jags trade.
Hey Eli? You don’t have THE BALLS to go to Jacksonville. COWARD!!!!!!!!
(I know, I know, the reverse psychology thing isn’t working. I tried. Besides, betting against Blake Bortles in the playoffs will be almost as fun as Eli-Brady III.)
Fun Idea No. 5: Tom Brady Needs to Go Full Tom Cruise
We always suspected that Brady had figured out a superior way to live, but in 2017, he turned that “way” into an actual business. Suddenly, there’s a thick self-help book (available in stores now!), there’s a complicated diet (water!), there’s an even more complicated exercise program (pliability!), there’s a training facility (TB12!), there’s an easy-to-remember acronym (TB12!), there’s merchandise (TB12!), there are undeniable results (he’s 40 and still going!) and even if there isn’t an infomercial, basically every Patriots victory is Tom Brady’s infomercial.
Hey, I’m not here to judge. The dude brought me five trophies. He could start sleeping in a makeshift UFO and I would defend him. I read his book and found it crazy and detailed and compelling. Around the 75th page, it started sucking me in, Scientology-style. Around the 300th page, I nearly adopted the TB12 way of life before realizing I could never give up coffee. By the time I finished the book, I realized something—there’s very little difference between Brady and another one of my favorite celebrities, the one and only Tom Cruise.
If Brady ever made a TB12 infomercial, his intensity wouldn’t just look a little like this …
It would look EXACTLY like it. Remember, Cruise was secretly weird during his entire movie career, only we never fully realized it until we watched a 42-year-old man freaking out on Oprah’s sofa in 2005. Tom Cruise couldn’t hide it anymore. Brady’s version of a sofa moment would certainly liven up the 2017 season.
I hope it doesn’t happen.
I worry it might happen.
(Let’s just move on before I get hit by a lightning bolt.)
Fun Idea No. 6: Tony Romo Needs to Double-Dip on ‘Monday Night Football’
One of the many best things about the Romo-on-TV era? He exposed color analysts like Jon Gruden, ESPN’s handsomely paid star who won’t ever criticize a quarterback or a coach, isn’t funny and rarely offers anything beyond generic bullshit. ESPN loves Gruden because ESPN is run, for the most part, by middle-aged white guys who spent the past 15-25 years living in central Connecticut. Every time Gruden strolls into a production room or a broadcast truck, starts doling out firm handshakes and remembers everyone’s names, they probably react like they just saw Chris Rock on stage in 1997.
Quick tangent: When I did NBA Countdown for two years, every so often during the playoffs when we were on location, the suits would show up to offer “support”—usually in Miami, not so coincidentally. They’d arrive at our preshow meeting wearing blue dress shirts and khaki pants. Usually there were two of them, and again, they were always dressed the same. I nicknamed them the Blue Shirt and Khaki Police (or BSKP for short). They’d sit in our meetings, offer nothing, then spend the rest of their time recapping the previous night’s dinner at Prime 112.
You know what Jon Gruden is probably great at? Buttering up the Blue Shirt and Khaki Police!
Hey man! How are ya! How’s the family? So glad you enjoyed last week’s Gruden Grinder! Love ya bro!
The BSKP loves that. They love feeling special. Bristol doesn’t want to deal with the Jemele Hills of the world who might actually have something to say. They want former coaches who spout clichés and hand out contrived awards. You know who my Gruden Grinder is this week? Khalil Mack! Is he tough or what? He’ll have that job for another 12 years as long as he keeps throwing around big handshakes and love-ya-bros.
Unfortunately, it’s not that entertaining to hear Gruden announce an NFL game; Romo exposed as much. This isn’t hard. Just tell us shit we don’t know. Predict things before they happen. Describe what it’s like to play against the player I’m watching. Explain why something just happened. Criticize a coach or QB who deserves it. This isn’t hard.
The frustrating thing about Gruden? We always know he’s holding back. He announces games like a former coach who’s never quite sure when he might start coaching again, so he never wants to say anything that might come back to haunt him. You know who my Gruden Grinder is? Tony Romo. I’m so impressed with this kid! Is he saying terrific stuff or what? I vote for Romo finishing the Sunday game for CBS, hopping on a plane and taking Gruden’s seat the following night. And don’t worry, Bristol—I bet he’d even suck up to the Blue Shirt and Khaki Police.
Fun Idea No. 7: We Need to Allow Aaron Rodgers to Use PEDs
And not just some PEDs … ALL THE PEDs. All of them. Every last one.
Did anyone really care when Ray Lewis tore a triceps during the 2012 season, mysteriously returned three to four months ahead of schedule, and as all of this was happening, became embroiled in a deer-antler spray scandal?
(It was five years ago. I’ll let you think about it for a second.)
(Answer coming …)
NO!!! Nobody cared! We need Aaron Rodgers back. Send him to Germany and have shady Berlin doctors inject the hemoglobin of young German kids into his broken collarbone for 100 straight hours until he can lift a freaking car over his head. And tell Roger Goodell to look the other way—we know he’s good at that (and only that).
Fun Idea No. 8: We Need Cam Newton to Declare War on Everybody
If Cam played hoops, NBA junkies would be defending his individuality, writing 6,000-word think pieces about his franchise failing to surround him with enough talent, posting good-natured memes about his wardrobe choices, and generally appreciating one of the league’s freak talents. You know, like we did with Russell Westbrook.
Unfortunately, Cam plays in the NFL, where everyone bitches about his press conferences, questions his toughness, wonders why he doesn’t “show up” in big games, picks apart his footwork and even unironically nicknames him “Scam Newton” (a recent Colin Cowherd special).
The amount of shit Cam takes is almost unbelievable. In 2015, the Panthers went 15-1 and made the Super Bowl as Cam threw for 3,837 yards and 35 touchdowns, ran for another 636 yards and 10 touchdowns, threw only 10 picks and pulled it off with Jonathan Stewart, Ted Ginn Jr., Greg Olsen, and Jerricho Cotchery as his best skill-position guys. It’s probably the best non-Brady/Rodgers/Manning QB season of 21st century. In 2016, he got the absolute shit kicked out of him in Week 1 and never really recovered. In 2017, he hasn’t had Olsen since Week 2, and even worse, anointed Panthers savior Christian McCaffrey looks like the next Rex Burkhead.
Scam Newton??? Seriously? He’s 28! We’re giving this dude shit? Is Matt Ryan getting crucified for having shitty footwork, choking in big moments, turning the ball over too much or playing like “Flat Ryan”? Not really. (I don’t need to spell this out for you.) Instead of having his feelings hurt and walking out of press conferences like a big baby, Cam needs to veer the other way. Embrace the thinly veiled dog whistle heat just like Iverson did back in the day. Feed off it. Own it. Call it out for what it is.
In Chicago last Sunday, Newton looked like a shell of himself, like he lost his football spark. Hey, Cam? You won a Heisman and an MVP, made a Super Bowl and went 48-27-1 in your past 76 starts (including 3-3 in the playoffs). Now, you need to throw a gigantic chip on your shoulder, forget about being marketable and go into Kanye/“Runaway” mode. Have a toast for the douchebags, have a toast for the assholes, have a toast for the scumbags, have a toast for the sports-radio hosts. Just do you. And part of that requires a press conference in which you wonder, in all seriousness, why you take more crap than every other good QB in the league. Followed by you telling everyone to fuck off.
Fun Idea No. 9: We Need to Start Overselling the Next Generation of QBs
Whenever Cousin Sal jokingly calls me an NBA-hole, I take it as a compliment even though he’s definitely insulting me. NBA-holes love pumping up the game and its stars, and we definitely love hyperbole. In our little NBA-hole circles, 2017’s draft isn’t just good; it might be The Greatest Draft Since the MJ Draft! (If you’re wondering, NBA fans say this almost every other draft.) Giannis, Embiid, Porzingis, Towns and Davis aren’t just fantastic young stars … they’re actually NBA Unicorns! (If you’re wondering, every decade produces basketball players that we’ve never seen before: Hakeem, Shaq, McHale, Iverson, C-Webb, Penny, Magic, Bird, etc.)
That’s just what we do. When Giannis kicked ass for the first week, we lost our freaking minds and practically mailed him the MVP trophy with 78 games to go. When Markelle Fultz stumbled through the first week, we dissected him like he was a suspicious Stranger Things character. Poor Lonzo Ball has a new narrative written about him every game; we’re going to be exhausted by Game 40, much less Game 82.
And if NBA-holes had a 24-and-under class of QBs like Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, Dak Prescott, Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, and (I can’t resist) Mitch Trubisky, you know what would happen? Hyperbole! LOTS OF IT. Last year, me and 253,389 other NBA writers wrote our “Unicorn” pieces. Why isn’t anyone pimping the Generation Z QB class? Why don’t they have a nickname? Why hasn’t anyone even tried to rank them? If you could start a franchise with any of them, which one would you take? I would go …
What about you? Why don’t we argue about this? What’s happened to football? Let’s get back to arguing about football instead of bitching about it. I promise to argue about Watson vs. Wentz with five people this weekend.
Fun Idea No. 10: We Need to Rename the Cleveland Browns
It’s not just that they could have drafted those three aforementioned studs … the same franchise that couldn’t find a decent QB for two solid decades WENT OUT OF ITS WAY TO AVOID DRAFTING ALL THREE. The Browns traded the Wentz pick to Philly; they traded the Watson pick to Houston; and they somehow drafted eight players (including QB Cody Kessler) before Dallas snagged Prescott at pick no. 135. Any of those decisions would haunt a franchise for 20 years. The Browns pulled off a triple haunting in less than 13 months.
In last week’s column, a reader speculated that all three quarterbacks would have bombed in Cleveland simply because anyone who plays football in Cleveland is eternally screwed (a.k.a. “The Pewing Theory”). This week, Chase in Philly wonders …
“Why hasn’t the football public been referring to this iteration of the Cleveland franchise as the ‘Zombie Browns?’ The team died (was hijacked to Baltimore), was resurrected and, while they’re (unfortunately) a real-life football team, have been completely lifeless since they returned from purgatory in 1999. The Dawg Pound could even be renamed The Walking Dead. It’s perfect! Long live the Zombie Browns! And thanks again for Carson Wentz!”
The Browns can’t make the 2017 NFL season more fun, but we can make them more fun. The Zombie Browns. It’s perfect. I will never call them anything else.
And I wanted to wager on them as a natural close for this column. I really did. But one of my rules in life is, “Never lay 9.5 points with Case Keenum, not even when he’s playing the Zombie Browns.”
Who do we like and dislike in Week 8? I think Carolina is the NFC’s zigzag team. (Right now, they’re zagging, which means they’re about to zig.) I think Oakland is one crazy no-time-remaining Thursday night touchdown away from having a five-game losing streak (and should be treated accordingly). I think that Chargers-Patriots line is three points too high (maybe four). I don’t think Chicago’s four-play Tecmo Bowl offense can possibly hang in New Orleans. And I think we’ll realize that Pittsburgh and Kansas City are the AFC’s best two teams by the end of this week.
Hence, we’re putting $550 to win $500 on these four games (home teams in caps) …
Panthers (+2) over BUCS
BILLS (-2.5) over Raiders
Chargers (+7.5) over PATRIOTS
Steelers (-3) over LIONS
And $600 to win $500 on this 6.5-point teaser …
SAINTS (-9 over Bears) and Chiefs (-7.5 over BRONCOS)
(I know, I know, I’m doing a teaser after I swore off teasers. This is why I suck at gambling.)
Last note: A reader named Jim from Mendocino unearthed a stupendous Tom Petty video and explained it like this:
“My favorite Tom Petty song is ‘The Waiting.’ After he died, I started looking for the best live video versions of it. One is phenomenal. I’ve heard The Great Gatsby described as a perfect blue bird’s egg of a book, something which is a complete and perfect whole, such that nothing could be added or removed. This video is a perfect blue bird’s egg of a video: a six-plus-minute mini-epic with a killer beginning, a tension-filled middle, and a climax that will tingle the crap out of your spine. Upon reflection, the song perfectly illuminates the seemingly unrelated story told at the beginning. Even the fact that it is in crappy low-def echoes the sound of playing a record instead of an iPod. One of its YouTube comments posits that this is one of the great moments in rock ’n’ roll history. And ultimately … depending on one’s definition … I agree! It is nothing. But it is everything. Find a moment where you can crank the hell out of this.”
(I found a moment. It was worth it. Enjoy.)
Last week: 3-3, -$150
Season: 11-13, -$1,845