Man Getting Hit By Football: Week Five

Sad parking lots, the joys of Russell Wilson running around terrified, and a children's book called J.J. Watt The Patriotic Violence Mountain.
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Illustration by Brad Beatson.

Buffalo (+3.5) at Cleveland

I’d like to start off what I hope will be a special all-optimism-and-sunshine edition of this column by saying that I’m looking forward to this game. The names Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns conjure up images of factories rusting in snow and large men of Central European descent drinking slowly all day in a dark bar and speaking wistfully of the union their fathers built, the things they made and the world that built; of fans shuffling out of a stadium into an endless parking lot of cracked asphalt, expressing fond stubborn hopes for next year and maybe vomiting; of a man with a limp staring out at an empty, poorly maintained football field and imagining what could have been. And, you know, fair enough. There is that.

But in 2013, both these teams are a defiantly mediocre 2-2, and though they’re probably not going to make the playoffs, neither are they the subject of hometown newspaper columns with titles like “Something Smells Foul on the Cuyahoga River” and “Hello This Is the Guy Who Writes About the Buffalo Bills. They Need to Get Better and Probably Fire Their Coach, but Please Think Up a Better Headline, Mr. Copyeditor.”

The Browns have what looks a lot like a legitimately good defense and have found a quarterback who doesn’t fall down for no reason and hasn’t thrown four picks in a game yet. Which means everyone is happy -- well, except for poor demoted Brandon Weeden -- or as close to happy as Browns fans get. The Bills, for their part, are stocked with a bunch of storyline-ready characters: an exciting but erratic rookie quarterback; a talented rookie middle linebacker; the apparently great C.J. Spiller, who exists only in fantasy football football leagues and injury reports; and Fred Jackson, who is 52 years old and works as a roofer in the offseason. These aren’t the best football teams in the world, but they’re something like the 17th and 18th best teams in the world—all of those big guys running on the field are really really good at what they do, and we get to watch them. So that’s pretty cool.

PICK: Buffalo

Kansas City (-2.5) at Tennessee

Also cool: Jake Locker, who got a hip injury so painful he had to get carted off the field in the Titans’ last game, isn’t going to need surgery. There are countless sites showing a .GIF of Locker getting struck in the hip by a massive lineman, going down to the turf, and clutching his leg while writhing in pain, but who wants to see that? In this optimistic incarnation of this column, we prefer to remember Jake in happier, more mobile days:

PICK: Kansas City

New England (+2) at Cincinnati

Seen from the outside, the Patriots operation can seem a little grim—a football factory of interchangeable silver-helmeted parts presided over by a shriveled shell of a man who also happens to be one of the best coaches of all time. Winning seems to give them little joy, losing just makes Tom Brady snarl. But also most all NFL teams are joyless factories; the difference is Bill Belichick’s actually works.

It’s gone on working despite all the player turnover this year, and it’s worked this year while some of the machine’s best pieces have been sidelined by hamstring sprains and broken bones and surgeries and being put on trial for murder. Vince Wilfork, who’s been the massive centerpiece of the team’s defense for a decade, is now out for the season with a torn Achilles, but I still have a weird amount of faith in the Patriot machine and the hateful coach driving it. You don’t have to love or even like a factory to know that it makes something that works.

PICK: Cincinnati

Seattle (-2.5) at Indianapolis

Russell Wilson may be the most entertaining player in the NFL, mostly because he’s seemingly always half a second away from disaster. In Week 4, playing behind a banged-up offensive line against a defense led by J.J. Watt, whose existence answers the age-old question, “What if a mountain came to life and was both patriotic and angry?”, Wilson usually played the role of a small man running from much larger men. A lot of the time, those men caught up to him (he was sacked four times), but more often, he took off down the field, running with purpose but also running in a slightly panicky way, like, Oh, hey, there are a bunch of dudes behind me trying to hurt me. On the Seahawks’ long fourth-quarter drive against the Texans, Wilson threw for 46 yards and ran for 53 more, but if you counted up all the scrambling that took him sideways and even backwards, always away from the huge men, he probably ran the full length of the field. It must be frustrating to play against him when he turns a potential 15-yard loss into a first down, but it’s throat-clenchingly thrilling to watch.

PICK: Seattle

Baltimore (+3) at Miami

I think everyone always assumed that Jon Gruden would be the type of guy who would show everyone at his dinner party his workout routine, even if no one asked him about it and even if his wife kept going, “Jon, no, they don’t need to see—put it away, Jon, remember what he talked about?” Still, it’s nice to have our suspicions confirmed in .GIF format.

PICK: Miami

New Orleans (PK) at Chicago

Until last week, I had no idea that the NFL was a nonprofit organization—you would assume that an entertainment company that makes money by showing people getting hurt within the guidelines of strange legalistic rules on live television wouldn’t be getting tax breaks usually reserved for charities. But, as Sports on Earth’s Patrick Hruby writes, thanks to some very savvy lobbying in Congress, not only is the NFL a nonprofit, there’s very little political will to change that.

Thankfully, a Saints fan named Lynda Woolard has started a Change.org petition to draw attention to this, and you should sign it, call your congressman, whatever. Roger Goodell could stand to lose a bit of his $11 million salary.

PICK: New Orleans

Jacksonville (+11.5) at St. Louis

One good thing here is that one of these teams will have a win at the end of this game, no matter how hard each of them tries to lose. Well, unless they tie, I guess. That’s probably what will happen. A 6-6 tie.

PICK: Jacksonville

Detroit (+7) at Green Bay

Via SB Nation’s Acme Packing Company blog, here’s a wonderful travel commercial presumably made by a bunch of people who wore suits and stuff.

Nothing says “fall in Wisconsin” like:

1. An NFL player trying his gosh-darn best to deliver lines like, “I’m... Jordy Nelson… a football player?”

2. An extremely expensive high-concept TV spot built around the fact that Jordy Nelson is from Kansas. (Does everyone in Green Bay know this? I had to Wikipedia it.)

3. A lot of admittedly very pretty colorful leaves falling picturesquely from stately-looking trees.

4. Jordy Nelson with a head injury.

PICK: Green Bay

Philadelphia (+2) at “New York” Giants

The Giants look pretty awful and will likely be even worse without Jason Pierre-Paul. On the other hand, if you live in New York you get to see a lot of entertaining Post and Daily News headlines like,

“GIANT MESS – BOYS IN BLUE ‘LOOK LIKE A BUNCHA SISSIES PUKIN’ AND CRYIN’ OUT THERE’ SEZ COUGHLIN” [PHOTO OF ELI MANNING RAISING HIS ARMS IN A “WHADDYA WANT ME TO DO?” GESTURE]

PICK: Philadelphia

Carolina (+2) at Arizona

Here’s something that’s fun to think about if you’re a Panthers fan and need a distraction from the fact that your coach, Ron Rivera, is a scowling tan knuckle who punts too much: Carolina’s next games are against the Cardinals, Vikings, Rams, Buccaneers, and the vulnerable-looking Falcons. Prepare yourselves for the “Cam Newton Has Stepped Up His Game” columns floating around ESPN in the next few weeks.

PICK: Carolina

Denver (-7.5) at Dallas

Also prepare yourselves for another week of stuff like, “Peyton Manning is on pace to throw for 7,000 yards and 134 TDs, and we are all on pace to live forever, holy cow!” Eventually, the Broncos will stop scoring 50 points every game—I promise—but this will probably not happen against the Cowboys, who last week let Philip Rivers throw for 400 yards while completing 83 percent of his passes.  

PICK: Denver

San Diego (-4.5) at Oakland

Speaking of Rivers, while it’s true dude is basically the meanest kid in second grade transplanted into the body of Cyclops from X-Men, man is it fun to great to watch that shitty kid get pumped up because he’s winning his little game:

PICK: Oakland

Houston (+6.5) at San Francisco

After Matt Schaub threw that interception Richard Sherman returned for the touchdown, a bunch of people got together in a parking lot -- I’m not sure where; Houston is pretty much all parking lots -- and set Schaub’s jersey on fire.

C’mon, you guys! Don’t listen to those columns that say Schaub “is no longer viewed as part of the solution, he is part of the problem” and “the “Texans simply can't afford the kind of self-inflicted wounds Schaub keeps producing at this stage of their development.” Schaub threw for 4,000 yards last year while your team won 12 games; more importantly, your backup is T.J. Yates. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence. There is no grass, because you live in Houston.

PICK: Houston

“New York” Jets (+10) at Atlanta

Now, the Jets, there’s a fan base that could complain about the quarterbacking they’ve had to watch over the last couple of years. At least now with Geno Smith, any of his mistakes can be waved away as understandable rookie hiccups. You can imagine a future where Geno has overcome his turnover problems, stops getting sacked so many times, and becomes a competent “game manager” -- or whatever Joe Flacco is -- for the 2017 world champion New York Jets. I can’t quite do it, but maybe you can. Try it.

PICK: “New York” Jets

Previous week’s record: 10-5
Overall record: 35-26-2
Lines taken from FootballLocks.com


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