Man Getting Hit By Football: Week 12

A few words on quarterbacks and quarterbacking, and far fewer words on Jacksonville versus Houston because woof.
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Illustration by Brad Beatson.

New Orleans (-9.5) at Atlanta

Looking over my picks from last week, I noticed that I wrote about quarterbacks an awful lot, probably because I was lazy. If you talk about football—on TV, on the internet, drunk in some dude’s backyard—you’ll inevitably fall back on that old trope of the quarterback as a stand-in for the entire team. Football is a complex tactical game with too many moving parts to keep track of, and a quarterback is a lone man who has to make sense of the flurry of action in front of him under threat of serious physical harm, and then toss this weirdly shaped ball toward a place where the right human can catch it.

This is a difficult thing, but more to the point, it’s a visible thing: we see the quarterback doing all this. We know what his job is, and know when he’s not doing it. The other 21 players are anonymous helmeted bodies, little pumping football machines, but the quarterback is the decision-maker and pathfinder and the target of the defense. Helping him succeed and tearing him down are the conflicting goals of the units on the field. So, not a strange thing to talk about when we talk about football, but also nothing like the whole story.

The quarterback produces the vast majority of each team’s offense, so duh, a good-to-great ball-throwin’ guy—or a mediocre-to-shit one—can affect the outcome of the game in a way no other position can. There’s a reason quarterbacks are judged by wins and loses, while no one talks about a defensive end who has gone “13-20 in his career.” There’s a reason that an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay team is assumed to be dead in the water. Quarterbacks matter more than other players.

The problem is that the importance of the ball-throwin’ guys gets inflated and abused, by people who don’t know better and by hacky football writers who do, but know it’s easier to write as if success and failure is defined by the QB alone. Think about Joe Flacco’s or Eli Manning’s relative “eliteness” as they won Super Bowls behind excellent defenses, or, say, the similar debates surrounding Michael Vick. If the team succeeds and the quarterback does well, he’s a “game manager” or “just finds a way.” If the team fails while the quarterback puts up stats he lacks “leadership” or isn’t “clutch”—a field of scholarship that is more or less constantly finding new depths to sink. It certainly reached a new nadir with the headline “Romo Has Great 4th Qtr Stats, Doesn’t Make Him ‘Clutch’.” But we can’t count these depth-plumbers out. They will “find a way” to write something dumber and more overdetermined, and soon.

In protest of this strand of sports editorial writing (hey, isn’t it fun to think about the people whose job it is to argue about the clutchness of Tony Romo?), I’m going to mention quarterbacks and quarterbacking as little as possible this time out. For this game it’s pretty easy, because this free-falling, injury-riddled Atlanta team could be quarterbacked by Rama, the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu and the hero of the Ramayana epic, and still not cover. Rama can’t play defense, for one thing. Dude, have you even read the Ramayana?

PICK: New Orleans

Tampa Bay (+9) at Detroit

The Lions have a lot of players who could play roles in ancient epics—imagine what Homer would write after seeing Calvin Johnson’s size and strength and speed in action, although actually Homer was blind so forget that particular example. But Tampa Bay’s season is more the stuff of reality TV shows, though not one of the good ones. The Bucs are more the sort of reality show you come across when you turn on TLC in the morning and people are yelling at each other for no discernible reason inside a half-built house.  

PICK: Tampa Bay

Carolina (-4.5) at Miami

No one has suffered more from the haze of ponderous bullshit surrounding the quarterback position than Cam Newton. This week, some NFL analysts took it upon themselves to debate whether Cam proved he was elite with a win over the Patriots, which raises all kinds of questions about the very nature of elite-ness—what helps becoming elite more, playing against a banged-up defense or having an excellent defense and running game behind you?

PICK: Carolina

Minnesota (+5) at Green Bay

I hate to bring it up, but there may be something to the idea that quarterbacks, the most visible, marketed, and talked-about players in the league, are also usually white while the rest of the league is mostly black. It’s one of those kinda-coincidences that makes some people a little nervous when you mention it, like you’ve just taken a knife out of its sheath and are casually tossing it up into the air. But would we talk about quarterbacks the way we do if the position’s demographics resembled the league as a whole? I honestly don’t know.

PICK: Minnesota

Jacksonville (+10) at Houston

This game is going to be the football equivalent of a very old, very frail looking man coughing violently into a mitten while everyone else tries to read their magazines.

PICK: Jacksonville

San Diego (+5) at Kansas City

Lately I’ve fallen into the habit of wandering through YouTube in search of old team fight songs, and one of my favorites—and one of the most popular of all time—is “San Diego Super Chargers,” a 1979 disco track recorded by a group of studio musicians who briefly adopted the name Captain Q.B. and the Big Boys:

It’s played after every Chargers score and victory when the team’s at home, and it’s such a natural expression of joy that of course Bill Belichick hates it.

PICK: Kansas City

Pittsburgh (+2) at Cleveland

One of the sadder storylines of the season has been watching Troy Polamalu—a guy who basically created his own position and roamed the field feely, who played like an actually very mentally ill person that happened also to be one of the best athletes in the world—lose a step. Where Polamalu was once able to streak across the field, he now streaks slightly more slowly. He’s no longer wherever the ball is, but often a couple yards away, which makes all the difference in a sport that, as we’re always reminded, is a game of inches. He’s not even fast enough to successfully lay dirty hits on opposing running backs anymore.

PICK: Pittsburgh

“New York” Jets (+3.5) at Baltimore

I believe this game somehow has playoff implications for the AFC, but I’m not sure because I refuse to think about the Jets playing the Ravens.

PICK: Baltimore

Chicago (+1) at St. Louis

That’s nice of Fox Sports to give Howie “You Know, The Radio Shack Guy” long the day off, but also—twenty years? He hasn’t taken a Sunday off in two decades? Yes, Howie mostly played before the bye week—back when it was still football—but the man’s job is basically to sit at a fancy table with a bunch of loud, right-angular men and look sufficiently serious while discussing what’s going to happen in an upcoming sporting contest. I’m pretty sure no lives would be lost if he made more use of his vacation time.

PICK: St. Louis

Tennessee (PK) at Oakland

This Bleacher Report piece about plans to have an openly gay player in the NFL is interesting firstly for the insider-y story of how carefully negotiated these things are, and secondly because seemingly no one would let their name be used in an article about the topic. I’m sure there will be openly gay professional athletes someday, but for now the league is terrified of even discussing it—which is precisely why we need an openly gay NFL player.

PICK: Oakland

Indianapolis (+2) at Arizona

Arizona has stayed in the playoff race by, in the last three weeks, beating the incredible collapsing Texans and Falcons as well as the previously fully collapsed Jaguars. The Cardinals aren’t particularly good by most statistical metrics, but they do have a solid defense and haven’t suffered too many crippling injuries, which is a winning formula in the NFL—if they get some lucky breaks, we might even get to see Rashard Mendenhall stumble forward into his line for a gain of one in the playoffs.

PICK: Indianapolis

Dallas (+2.5) at “New York” Giants

“Giants Treating Cowboys Game Like a Super Bowl” is the saddest headline I have ever read.

PICK: “New York”

Denver (-2.5) at New England

This game, on the other hand, is more likely to be a Super Bowl-quality game—or at least it would be if the Patriots’ defense wasn’t completely devastated by injuries. When you’ve lost a game because you weren’t able to tackle Ted Ginn Jr., the last thing you want to do is go up against a receiver corps consisting of a motivated Wes Welker and five or six extremely talented guys named Thomas.

PICK: Denver

San Francisco (-5.5) at Washington

If you want to read an example of the media unfairly picking on a quarterback, feast your eyes on this hot take that claims “when it comes to leadership, RG3 doesn’t quite measure up.” Throwing around words like “leadership” when you’re not making a sarcastic wanking motion is bad enough, but the point of this column seems to be that since the quarterback is struggling a bit more this season than he did last year and the team is losing, Robert Griffin III needs to “adjust his attitude” like Cam Newton apparently did. Beyond the vagueness of what this adjustment would look like—he could say that the losses were his fault in press conferences, I guess?—there’s also the issue of the R******s’ defense, which is nonexistent, compared to the Panthers’ dominant unit. And can’t we cut Griffin a little slack, since the man came off a horrific knee injury last year? Luke Hughes of NESN.com needs to show a little more leadership out there if he doesn’t want to lose the locker room.

PICK: San Francisco

Previous week’s record: 7-5-3
Overall record: 81-75-6
All lines taken from FootballLocks.com


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