Each week, the Rampant Discourse staff will offer their quick takes and rampant reactions to the NFL 2017 season.
This week, the crew welcome frequent discourser, Miguel, to weigh in with his thoughts from week 3.
This definitely felt like an upside-down sort of week in the NFL (and not just because I did terrible in my weekly pick’em). If last week helped to inform which teams were good and which weren’t, this week reminded us to never take anything for granted in the NFL. Just when I thought the Saints defense couldn’t stop anybody, they shut down Cam and the Panthers. Jets and Bears look hopeless? Upset the Dolphins and Steelers. Broncos and Ravens defense look impenetrable? Suddenly they couldn’t stop anybody. And what happened to that Oakland offense? In my survivor pool, every player this week either picked a team that lost (Dolphins and Steelers were popular) or a team that won by 3 points (Patriots and Packers).
Even after the carnage, my picks are still looking good. Jared Goff, in particular, looked awesome tearing apart the 49ers defense, although I do worry about the Rams defense being largely shredded for two consecutive weeks. While it wasn’t pretty, the Eagles, Packers, and Patriots all picked up wins to stay on top of their respective divisions. The Texans showed a lot of heart in a battle with a team they probably shouldn’t have been able to hang with. As mentioned before, the Raiders and Steelers had ugly losses, but I still believe in them long term. The biggest concern to me is the Buccaneers. It’s not surprising that they lost to Minnesota, but how they lost was concerning. Their defense was unable to stop backup QB Case Keenum and their offense struggled to put points on the board. Any team can have a bad week, but I’m starting to worry about their ability to overtake the Falcons.
All in all, though, I’m trying not to overreact to a bizarre weekend of football. Glancing ahead at next week’s schedule, I see a lot of seemingly even match-ups would should go a long way towards clarifying if some of this week’s performances were mere outliers, or the start of a troubling trend.
If there was an elephant in the stadium this week, it was Donald Trump. His rant in Alabama on Friday night and subsequent Twitter tirades are nothing unexpected or even particularly offensive, considering his track record. But they were unnecessary, distracting and ultimately polarizing. Trump does not have a politician’s instincts, but that does not mean that he doesn’t have good instincts. I want to momentarily look at how divisive Kaepernick’s actions were. Even those in the NFL who supported his motivations were largely unsupportive of him in his crusade. The NFL is very pro-military, very pro-police and generally pretty conservative, particularly when compared to a league like the NBA. Kaepernick challenged all of it, ultimately lost, and got swallowed by the beast. His protest could have been the most important thing in the world, but there was no way it would succeed in the NFL’s environment. In walks Trump. The protest movement is minimal. Kaepernick is out of the league. There is no reason to revisit this. No politician would touch it. It’s hot, and why even bother? The issue is “won.” But Trump has instincts. Something in him knows that there is a festering wound there, and he decided to poke it.
If Trump had not, that wound would have continued to exist and be an unhealthy blemish on the sport. Trump’s critiques of the league’s safety measures, too, might find some galvanizing purchase in improving the game while also improving health outcomes. Americans expect their president to be a unifier, a person who can reach across divides and make anyone feel welcome. Trump doesn’t do that and it upsets us. But that does not mean that Trump is not a unifier.
Even among his base, who he stoked with his message and who are upset with Kaepernick and similar protests, there tends to be a grudging respect for the protestors. There is far more common ground to be found between the people demanding homage to the flag and the players who refused out of a political protest than there is between any of them and Trump. We can and will unify. Most people understand that the majority of these players love our country every bit as much as Trump’s base loves their country. And it’s the same country. A protest only works if it can gain attention. Trump took the issue, a smoldering nothing, poured gasoline over it and united almost everyone in doing so. It isn’t pretty to watch, but it just might work. Instead of letting the wound linger and perhaps heal eventually over time, we’re going to clean it out. The disinfecting process is probably going to be painful, but we’ll be healthier in the end.
In terms of the games, I have a few I want to talk about, namely the Sunday bookends. First, let’s tackle the Jaguars in London. Baltimore looked bad. I loved it (my dislike of the Baltimore franchise is well-known), but they are nowhere near as bad as Jacksonville made them look. Nor, despite my willingness to join the hype train, are the Jaguars that good. The truth, as always, lies in the circumstances. The Jaguars are experienced in London, the Ravens are not. The Jaguars are a much-improved team, and likely to be overlooked by a confident, even cocky, 2-0 Ravens team. Meanwhile, the Ravens are not all that. They shut out the Bengals, that was good for them, but the Bengals are clearly not the team I predicted them to be. At 0-3, it seems unlikely they can recover and win the division. Then the Ravens stomped on the Browns. That’s good, too, but expected; even if the Browns did win a game yesterday, they are still the Browns. We know very little about the quality of the Ravens team right now. We know that Flacco is not Flacco circa 2012-2014. To borrow another pundit’s line, it is clear he is not elite now if he ever was. He is injured and, with Yanda injured as well, this team will thrive, or perhaps just survive, on defense for a while. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is figuring out how to win without Allen Robinson, and with Blake Bortles.
I also want to mention the Oakland/Washington game. Oakland got beat pretty badly. It could have been a lot worse. It could have easily been Baltimore/Jacksonville-bad if the Redskins weren’t so generous with mistakes. The time-of-possession battle was decided in the Redskins favor throughout and only a handful of penalties and turnovers kept the game from being a total blowout. The very penetrable Redskins defense bottled up both Carr and Lynch. And this is in spite of the fact that the Redskins played poorly, as I mentioned. Clearly, the Redskins are not good. But they are good enough to beat Oakland. At least this time. Bonus fact: it was a prime-time game. The Redskins are notoriously bad in prime-time games. My narrative here is that the Redskins are bad, and the Raiders are worse. There are still other take-aways; but the evidence mounts for mine.
Well, that was a terrible weekend for the AFC North. The Ravens can at least be partially excused for having to travel to London (though it was very disconcerting) for their absolute clunker, but the Steelers dropping a game to the previously hapless Bears was pretty unexpected. And at 0-3, we can officially write off both the Bengals and the Browns, making the AFC North a two team division before we even get through the first quarter of the season.
The absolute shocker for me though, was the Redskins throttling the Raiders and pretty much nullifying what was supposed to be one of the best offenses in the league. Between the upsets, the Falcons/Lions finish, and the anthem protest (along with the reactions to it), this was probably one of the strangest NFL weeks I’ve ever seen.
As for the conclusion of the Falcon/Lions game, overturning the call was probably the correct decision. He did look down. It does suck that Detroit wasn’t allowed another chance to try and win the game, but that’s an issue with the way the rules are constructed rather than an issue with the refereeing itself. It is a bit ironic that if the call was made correctly the first time, the Lions would have been afforded the opportunity, however slim, to actually get to win the game.
I never realized some many people in my Facebook network “care” about the NFL until I saw the torrent of responses and opinions to the players’ protests. Of course, the vitriol displayed nowadays is much worse than when Dwyane Wade’s shooting during the Canadian national anthem in May 2016. Perhaps that because it was another country’s anthem being disrespected. Or maybe Canadians are just nicer people than us Americans. Or perhaps such a topic is even hotter in today’s charged political atmosphere, with President Trump fanning the flames. One might wonder if this yet another magic trick to draw attention way from more dire news stories. Regardless, let’s not let the furor and protests detract from the point of these football games: pure entertainment for the fans. That’s not dismissing either side of the debate, just refocusing people’s attention back to why we watch football, and all sports.
So, in that spirit…
In a rare week, I actually got to watch portions of three different games.
First was the Ravens embarrassment against the Jaguars. I don’t normally watch Ravens games, but I happened upon the London game. I had to stop watching soon after the half after yet another Flacco interception led to another beautiful touchdown pass by Bortles. It does feel like bad football karma to fake punt when holding a huge lead; that’s pretty Belichickian. And one has to wonder if the Jaguars have some sort of advantage from playing so many games in London at this point. Although it doesn’t seem like rocket science to figure out the teams should fly over as early as possible to combat jet lag.
Next was the first quarter of the Eagles and Giants. All I saw was the reason I dropped Paul Perkins from my fantasy team and why Paul may be right about the Eagles winning the division. Then the next day I see the final score and have to rethink the quality of this Eagles team. In the end, though, a win is a win. Although we’ll have to see how the Eagles handling losing a player like Sproles for an extended period of time.
And finally, Hail to the Redskins! While the lost the season opener to an Eagles team that is surpassing expectations (thanks to some good playing from Carson Wentz), the Redskins have now defeated two darlings of pundits in back-to-back games. The Rams are a trendy pick to take over the NFC West, but they have now lost to the Redskins and barely beat a poor division rival in the 49ers. The Raiders were my pick to win the AFC West but their offense looked anemic against the Redskins defense. Don’t disrespect the Redskins play, either. Vernon Davis looked like he was back on the 49ers with that first half touchdown catch. Chris Thompson has plenty of patience and moves. I will admit, though, it is not a good sign when a team’s top receiver is a running back; the vaunted group of new receivers (Pryor, Crowder, Doctson, and apparently now Grant) need to step up their game for the Redskins to continue doing this well.
In other games, the Patriots continue to show vulnerability (and not the romantic kind). While it’s the Pats’ division to lose, they should be a little more concerned. Then again, they faced two division winners from last year in Kansas City and Houston. The Bills are tied with the Patriots, for now, but they’ve only defeated the (supposedly hapless) Jets and a Broncos team traveling across the country. With some strong contenders in the rest of the AFC, particularly Kansas City and Tennessee, and I wouldn’t crown the Patriots quite yet.
With seven games decided by a touchdown or less, two games going to overtime, and several underdogs winning (or coming very close to victory), it would appear some parity is settling in to the league. But I’m sure that’s all just statistical noise at this early point of the season. Let’s wait until at least a full quarter (for most teams) of the NFL 2017 season has passed before passing too much judgement. Except the Bengals and Browns. We can totally pass judgement on those poor 0-3 teams.